Remember the days when Super Bowl ads were about getting attention for being fun, quirky and creative? Yeah, those golden days of, say, five years ago. These days, you couldn’t go a commercial break without some major name making a stark and, sometimes, blatant and brutal political statement.
Without doubt, the most controversial decision leading into the Super Bowl was booking political firebrand Lady Gaga for the halftime show. But, by the time the game was over, the country was abuzz about the big brands that took big risks with their politically-charged commercial spots.
Anheuser-Busch led with a creative spot that might have been heartwarming in any other year. Young Adolphus Busch immigrates from Germany to St. Louis in the mid-1800s. He goes through many trials, is greeted both rudely and warmly before meeting his eventual co-founder Eberhard Anheuser, who offers him a beer. The commercial, called “Born the Hard Way” is a clear allusion to the current flack over illegal immigration.
This is an interesting play for the biggest beer seller in the States. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to guess that A-B’s biggest market also happens to be largely and predominantly supportive of Donald Trump, as well as his immigrant statements and executive orders. So, how will this play with that crowd? Too early to say, but you can bet this will be talked about for some time.
Another contender for controversy came courtesy of Audi. While the brand is currently tied to the controversy over Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, the company decided to swing for the fences of risk with an ad called “Daughter.” In it, a father speaks proudly of his daughter as she competes in a go-cart race. No controversy there, right? Just a dad happy with his kid. Not so fast, Audi pops the clutch and downshifts right into a message about “equal pay” for women in the workplace, touting Audi as one of the industry leaders.
This particular ad didn’t even wait for the Super Bowl to start ruffling feathers. Angry tweets and comments began being hurled at the brand from the moment the spot leaked on YouTube. The criticisms were neither subtle nor nuanced, all essentially claiming Audi was just fomenting “feminist propaganda.”
Initially, 84 Lumber was asked to “fix” their ad, which is actually called “The Journey” has a Spanish-speaking mother and her daughter on a long journey through what appears to be Mexico. Really don’t have to go any further with this one. Just the first half was enough to get people very agitated.
And, in the initial cut, the family confronts a border wall. Yes, seriously. That part was cut, but there was enough left to get people looking for the spot online, where they found the full version. This level of controversy almost makes you long for the days when a bunch of people were singing America the Beautiful in different languages.
So, which was your favorite big game commercial, and which brand tried to hit but missed?
Daniel Palmier is a leading Boston CEO, Real Estate Investment Manager, and Founder of UC Funds.