Super Bowl advertisements venture into political realm
On Sunday, Feb. 5, 111.3 million people with almost as many levels of football knowledge watched Super Bowl LI. The game started as a blowout for the Atlanta Falcons, but the New England Patriots managed to pull off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, forcing overtime for the first time in the Super Bowl en route to their fifth Super Bowl victory.
The outcome generated a number of awkward moments with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, perhaps the most fitting response for the way he handled the 2015 Deflategate scandal.
For quite a large portion of the time, the game itself was rather boring, so the other aspects of the big game took the stage. The halftime show headlined by Lady Gaga most certainly drew the attention of fans and detractors alike, even if others like me were more invested in taking the opportunity to prepare something to eat or use the bathroom instead.
However, the halftime show still took up only the time between the end of the second quarter and the start of the third.
For those who wanted entertainment during the game but either didn’t care enough about football or just weren’t interested in the game being played out, the ads were the spotlight of the show.
According to a 2014 survey conducted by ad agency Venables Bell & Partners, 78 percent of Americans look forward to the commercials more than the game itself.
In an age where ad blocking is popular and advertisers are seen as annoying and potentially compromising safety, it’s almost as if the Super Bowl is a holiday for advertising, the one day in the year people will accommodate advertisements as an essential part of the whole experience. It’s no wonder the price for a 30 second ad spot has reached $5 million.
For years, the top advertisements in the Super Bowl have generally revolved around comedy and animals. However, it seems this year’s ads have been headlined by the political tones surrounding them. An Audi ad featured a father considering how his daughter would be viewed as less valuable than a man to highlight the wage gap between men and women. A Budweiser ad which showcased the story of its founder’s path to achieving the American Dream generated boycott threats over its tone on the value of immigration. 10 Haircare urged viewers to make up for “four years of awful hair,” a humorous reference to President Trump’s infamous hair.
Perhaps the most controversial ad came from 84 Lumber. Titled “The Journey”, the ad showed a mother and a daughter journeying across the Mexican desert on the way to the United States. Viewing the full ad online reveals that they eventually reach an impasse in the form of a wall, but manage to sneak in through a door made from 84 Lumber materials. “The will to succeed is always welcomed here,” closed out the ad. The tumultuous election cycle that led to Trump’s electoral win over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has no doubt shone a greater focus onto the issues facing the country, and it’s no secret that the NFL has been a part of politics for years.
In 2014, the St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) made hands up gestures in reference to the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" cry that drove protests in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been well documented for his protest of the national anthem.
Many fans were enraged when the NFL denied a request by the Dallas Cowboys to wear stickers in support of the Dallas Police Department.
It seems that politics have become entwined in football, and this is now showing in the way companies have been approaching ads.
Quite a number of ads stuck with the tried and true formula of comedy and lighthearted presentations with celebrities to push their companies’ products. However, it seems like a greater number of people are focused on politics now that Donald Trump has become the president of the United States.
Whether this is good or bad depends on perspective. Some people would prefer having politics out of their entertainment, while others might welcome any avenue that promotes discussion about the issues the country is facing.
The world has certainly recognized the gravity of recent events.
Perhaps it is time the Super Bowl recognized it too.