Every year the Super Bowl happens, two American teams claw their way to the top of the National Football League and then fight each other off on live television, in front of what is estimated to be an audience of 100 million. The day is important for the game, yes – but its importance also lies in the fact that it is the evening that companies pay exorbitant amounts of money to run their advertisements on.
The huge sums of money paid – with an expected audience of a 100 million – the commercials that these companies air on this day are perhaps the most important commercial they will air throughout the year. And most commercials do end up getting social and political.
Dripping with ‘winking’, even ‘pointed’ subtext regarding the current political climate in the US, the commercials are quite like the statements that the most important brands in the country are making to their people. And while these commercials are seen as a reflection of the society, they also showcase what the society needs, and what these brands are going to stand for.
What aired on this year’s Super Bowl was mostly a message of ‘inclusivity’, with each brand’s commercial showcasing its own flavor of it. Given the current socio-political context of the country, these are perhaps the most important and inflammatory statements that these companies can make at the moment.
Google, the Silicon Valley giant, used this year’s Super Bowl ad to drive home a message of ‘inclusivity’. Their ad showed people driving past rainbow pride flags (indicative of the LGBTQ pride), walking into their homes past hanging mezuzahs (a piece of parchment inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah, often contained in a decorative case), and making dinner with a photogenic group of multi-ethnic friends that would make any network sit-com proud.
Going one step ahead and breaking the social stereotypes – the ad showed women in strong independent demeanors, out alone at night; it showed men taking care of children and contributing to the household. In a time where the feminist ideals are being relooked at, and questioned, in every socio-political context, from women’s right to abortion to the stark wide wage gap that still exists across the world – an imagery of that kind sends a strong message of a need to restructure the social moulds.
The next strong message was driven home by the makers of the alcoholic beverage Budweiser. Their commercial showed the story of Adolphus Busch, the German immigrant who made a harrowing journey to the United States to eventually co-find the Anheuser-Busch brewing company.
The minute-long commercial opened with a man in an American bar telling Busch that he doesn’t look like he’s “from around here.” The film then flashes back to what is obviously Busch’s ‘fraught’ sea journey to America. As soon as he steps onto the American soil, he was immediately ridiculed for being foreign. But then the man who first eyed Busch buys the German a beer, and Busch reveals himself to be a German by indicating the beer. The former man is none other than Ebert Anheuser, and that’s seemingly how Anheuser-Busch was born.
Now, the fact of the matter is that one of the world’s leading brewing brands was most definitely not born that way, over a mistaken bar encounter. But the fact that Budweiser is choosing to devote one of the most expensive advertising spots, the one in Super Bowl, to what’s essentially a short film about its company’s immigrant roots is quite significant, especially in the light of the Trump- executed immigrant-ban.
One of the world’s largest brands Coca-Cola re-aired an advertisement from back in 2014. The ad features “America the Beautiful” being sung in multiple languages, alongside people of various ethnicities. The ad places whites, seemingly American, next to women in hijabs, and black kids dancing, and people of the Latin American descent. Before we even dig into the underlying message in that ad, the imagery itself is quite bold and in the face.
When the ad first came out back in the day, it received two kinds of extreme reactions. While it was the center of appreciation for most liberals, it left ring-wingers with a bad taste. This ad pressed multiple hot-button issues for them – including the ongoing debate over the codification of English as the primary language in the U.S., immigration reform and the acceptance of same-sex relationships in mainstream media.
Perhaps the most powerful and blatant of the commercials came from Airbnb. “No matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept”, read the text splurged across the center of the screen, on a background of multi-ethnic faces.
The commercial is particularly pointed in terms of its political leanings owing to the fact that the company recently came out against President Trump’s refugee ban, insisting that it would pay for refugee housing if need be.
While one can obviously argue that these ads are scripted, and filmed for weeks, if not months, in advance – the fact that these companies are using what is quite definitely the most expensive advertising spot in the US for these messages definitely speaks for something. The statements might be veiled, but the message is quite clear: love thy neighbour, even if that neighbour looks nothing like thyself.