US immigration

Super Bowl ads tout diversity in time of Trump and immigration furore

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 1:17am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 5:55am

At times, it seemed like Super Bowl advertisers were speaking directly to President Donald Trump.

Several brands chose messages of inclusion in their commercials during Sunday’s 34-28 overtime victory of the New England Patriots over the Atlanta Falcons, where broadcaster Fox was charging more than US$5 million for each 30-second spot. Some messages were subtle. Others were more overt. And others may have been unintentional. But in an especially tense moment in American politics, it was hard not to see some ads as responses to the new president’s controversial policies on immigration, even as many of the spots stayed in safer territory of talking animals and celebrities.

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“It’s striking that there were so many advertisers this year working with the theme of inclusion,” said Timothy Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Super Bowl advertisers are always something of a reflection of the country. I think these advertisers understand the divisiveness and identify that people aren’t happy with that.”

Alphabet’s Google kicked off the Super Bowl with a commercial featuring a house with a rainbow flag out front and a woman asking the company’s voice-activated digital assistant, “How do you say, ‘Nice to meet you’ in Spanish?”

Then Airbnb aired a spot that flipped through a series of faces of people of different races, including a man with a turban. The subtitles read, “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”

Co-founder Brian Chesky tweeted after the ad that the home-sharing startup would contribute US$4 million to the International Rescue Committee to support displaced populations.

Coca-Cola re-aired a Super Bowl ad that first debuted during the big game three years ago -- an unusual move. The ad, which features people singing “America the Beautiful” in their native languages, sparked a backlash among some viewers in 2014, with people tweeting the hashtag #SpeakAmerican.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said the company chose to air the commercial again because “it promotes optimism, inclusion and celebrates humanity.” Coca-Cola, whose Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent has criticised Trump’s immigration restrictions, doesn’t normally re-air old ads at the Super Bowl, especially not in a prime slot moments before kickoff.

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The Airbnb and Coke ads drew the most commentary on Twitter in the game’s first half, according to data from marketing firm Amobee.

Meanwhile, 84 Lumber Co., which claimed its original Super Bowl commercial was rejected by Fox, released the ad online moments after its toned-down commercial appeared on TV, showing a mother and daughter journeying to immigrate to the US.

The unedited spot ends with a door in a border wall that lets the ad’s protagonist finish the journey. “This door is a symbol of the doors that 84 Lumber opens for its employees, regardless of their race, ethnicity, background or orientation,” the closely held company said in a statement. Its website crashed moments after it released the ad online.

Anheuser-Busch InBev SA waded into the immigration debate with an ad depicting German-born founder Adolphus Busch arriving in America, where he’s greeted by people shouting, “Go back home!” The company said the ad wasn’t intended to be political and that the commercial was planned long before Trump’s executive order, which created new barriers to entry for refugees from seven largely Muslim countries.

Trump supporters responded to the ad on Twitter by advocating a boycott of the company’s flagship brand, Budweiser. The misspelled hashtag, #boycottbudwiser, was used in over 12,700 tweets as of Monday morning. But the company said three out of four of those tweets were in favour of the brand.

“The consumer response to our founder story has been overwhelmingly positive, with 78 per cent of social conversations over the last week either positive or neutral,” said spokeswoman Gemma Hart. “Consumers are expressing their solidarity with our message of hard work and the American dream.”

Volkswagen AG’s Audi aired an ad supporting equal pay for women, with a voiceover of a father as his daughter careened through a boxcar race against boy competitors.

“What do I tell my daughter?” he asked. “Do I tell her her dad is worth more than her mom?” During the presidential campaign, Trump didn’t support equal pay legislation, but did say he believed in paying based on performance rather than gender.

Plenty of Super Bowl ads went without political overtones, of course. Bai Brands, the maker of antioxidant infusion drinks owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, went for laughs with a commercial featuring Christopher Walken dramatically reciting the lyrics to the NSync song “Bye Bye Bye” in front of Justin Timberlake.

Timberlake was once a frontman in the boy band and was also an investor in Bai Brands.

And in a clever blurring of the lines between the game, advertising and social media, Procter & Gamble‘s Tide featured an ad starring Fox’s football analyst Terry Bradshaw. In the ad, Bradshaw has a stain on his shirt that becomes a trending topic on Twitter, forcing him to leave the studio and go on a journey to clean it.

One advertiser tried to have it both ways, mixing humour with a political dig. “We’re in for at least four years of awful hair,” began an ad for It’s a 10 Inc.’s styling products.