Super Bowl 51 aired this past weekend, February 5th, on TVs across America. Thanks in part to the historic conclusion in overtime, the match was the fourth most viewed broadcast in American history with an estimated 111.3 million spectators. Going into overtime allowed four more commercials to air than anticipated, contributing to an estimated $509.6 million in ad revenue.
The high cost and mass viewership of the Super Bowl creates a ‘go-big-or-go-home’ expectation for advertisers seeking to make an impact. Ads during the event usually include a cast of celebrities, epic visuals, quirky jokes, and emotionally gripping story-lines. This year, advertisers chose two completely different paths – live experiences or social messaging.
The old saying “don’t discuss religion or politics” has been common practice for many advertisers, whose primary goal is attracting consumers to the brand despite their beliefs. The digital age has allowed more people to voice their opinions on a highly visible platform, which has normalized the presentation of debatable issues.
While many brands have found it to be in their best interest to stay clear of such conversations, 2017 saw an upsurge in controversial Super Bowl commercials as brands took the opportunity to make a clear stance on their views through marketing. Our analysts watched each ad from Super Bowl 51 and took note of the many interesting ads that caused the most commotion. Here is our list of the best (or most polarizing) Super Bowl ads for 2017.
Airbnb- We Accept
3,331 Likes / 2,535 Dislikes (at time of posting)
The San Francisco based travel lodging company has been rapidly expanding every year since its founding in 2008. With listings in 191 countries, Airbnb has developed a global community of hosts and guests spanning a diverse range of demographics. Previous campaigns have focused on traveling to a destination and living like a local, encouraging travelers to be open to a world of cultural differences.
Airbnb’s Super Bowl campaign took this idea one step further by pushing a message of acceptance. The ad takes a soft approach to a pointed message by using images of people from different races, genders, and religions to present the hashtag “#weaccept.” The campaign grew out of Airbnb’s community commitment which features an anti-discrimination policy for all users.
Budweiser- Born The Hard Way
45,407 Likes / 15,836 Dislikes (at time of posting)
Budweiser has been a regular staple in Super Bowl advertising for many years. Previous ads have featured the Budweiser Clydesdale horses rolling across the screen symbolizing an American tradition that is treasured by many. This year, the brand took many viewers by surprise through focusing on the brand’s German heritage over its American legacy.
The ad takes an epic narrative approach, telling the story of Adolphus Busch who immigrated from Germany and introduced the States to Budweiser beer. While Budweiser claims the ad is a “stick to your guns” message and not a modern political commentary, consumers have shared their own interpretations on social media about the meaning of the ad.
55,906 Likes / 66,228 Dislikes (at time of posting)
Audi has previously advertised during the Super Bowl featuring sporty vehicles with a touch of luxury. The male centric traditions of football have caused auto brands to promote the stereotypically “masculine” features of vehicles, focusing on speed and engineering. Audi is no stranger to combining politics and advertising, as demonstrated by its presidential debate commercial from last year (See below). The company took advantage of the family aspect of the Super Bowl to send an important message to parents with diverging results.
The American division of Audi released its “#driveprogress” campaign to express its position on “equal pay for equal work.” Viewers had a range of reactions to the ad which was emblematic of the progress that women have made in the fight for equal rights, which affirms Audi’s commitment to gender equality.
84 Lumber- Complete The Journey
6,771 Likes / 2,398 Dislikes (at time of posting)
This American building supply company has been around for many years but made its presence known at the Super Bowl in a big way. The TV network rejected the brand’s initial advertisement, calling for a revision to be made to avoid controversy. 84 Lumber debuted an edited version of its commercial during the actual event, encouraging viewers to visit the brand online to view the conclusion, effectively causing their site to crash due to the unprecedented amount of traffic to the site.
Viewers were shown the story of a mother and daughter of Latin origin traveling across the desert to reach America and the challenges they face. While the CEO claimed that “there were many interpretations” for the ad and that they didn’t intend to create controversy, it’s easy to draw comparisons amid the recent political environment. Whether you agree or disagree with the ads message, the combined use of TV and social media has generated a lot of talk about 84 Lumber and the agency that produced the campaign.
The Take Away
By displaying a polarizing belief on a grand stage, such as the Super Bowl, brands put themselves at risk of alienating a number of consumers. In a time of divisive public sentiment, it’s an interesting tactic to take on controversial issues. But for consumers who share their viewpoint, they have most likely strengthened their loyalty. As the general public is more inclined to use hashtags and share videos that align with a deeper opinion that they hold, advertisers can encourage these consumers to be advocates of their brand by aligning sentiments.
Hitting at consumers heartstrings is not new but allowing ads to make bolder, more controversial statements may continue to be a trend moving forward. It’s evidence that brands are becoming more daring in their role as influencers by promoting lifestyle and tapping into the political beliefs of the consumer.
What were your favorite or least favorite ads of Super Bowl 51? Do you think mixing advertising with social messaging is beneficial or hurtful to brands? Continue the discussion, leave a comment below.