Super Bowl Ads – Political Commentary or Post-Truth Playbook?

By | February 6, 2017

Superbowl-Advertisers-ListBefore the kickoff of the Super Bowl last night the internet was already buzzing with conversation about the “Ad Bowl” – from ads that leaked to the Coca-Cola commercial celebrating diversity right before the kickoff.

This year’s ads covered some heavy topics like diversity, immigration and gender equality. And much has already been written about these ads as an example of Corporate America firing back at President Trump. American society is experiencing a surge in activism we haven’t seen in generations, so it becomes easy to classify pretty much everything as a protest. It is hard to believe that brands would spend millions just to make a political statement. And even the Fox-banned spot from 84 Lumber, which was clearly political, served a bigger purpose. How many of us had ever heard of 84 Lumber before yesterday? But what if this had little to do with politics, and everything to do with creating emotional connections with consumers?

Two brands took an approach reminding us about the quintessential American experiences. Coca-Cola’s decision to re-cycle an old spot celebrating the diversity of America set the tone for the evening (and the conversation), and spots from AirBnB and other brands ranging from haircare to travel that showcased diversity have been a hot topic on Twitter. And Anheuser Busch leaned in to its heritage as one of the oldest and most iconic American companies in its spot reminding us that its founders were immigrants. Both of these companies have been tugging on our heartstring for generations, and Anheuser Busch has been particularly effective at striking a chord in the national psyche, most notably with its 9/11 ad, which appeared only once and is often referenced as one of the best Super Bowl ads of all time. And even Bud Light’s “lighter” approach with the revival of Spuds Mackenzie had an emotional message: Bud Light helps you reconnect with friends.

Fathers and daughters were also used last night, from the light-hearted Amazon spot where fatherly pride in a little girl’s football prowess was front and center, and the more serious approach from Audi, tackling the issue of gender equality, and making a pledge for equal pay.

The Post-Truth playbook tells us that people are increasingly making decisions based on emotion, even if that decision flies in the face of the facts. Isn’t this what great advertising has always been designed to do? The most memorable ads have always been about something more emotive, more personal and more significant than price or product features. It’s why brand reputation matters.

It is my hope that we will continue to see leaders in every industry focus on what they stand for as a company, not just the products they sell. And not just during the Super Bowl. Whether they are deciding on a product purchase, an employer or a company to invest their hard-earned money, stakeholders deserve this kind of information, and in a post-truth economy, they are demanding it.

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