2017 is probably seen as the decisive moment for brands to take a stand in their Super Bowl Advertising. The most striking example was 84 Construction timber, a brand that made a bold statement on immigration, seemingly out of nowhere. Airbnb and Coca-Cola promoted diversity and unity, Audi has tackled the gender pay gap and Kia had a climate message. In the game itself, halftime star Lady Gaga subverted the performance with a political statement.
Even one of America’s most venerable brands, Budweiser, ran an ad that told the story of how immigrants played a vital role in building the country. Shot by xenophobes (to the beat of #BoycottBudweiser), the the brand quickly noted that it was not making a political statement. However, with the political climate, as was the case when Trump began his first and only term, outrage (false or not) was accomplished fact.
The escape is over, social justice is in place
Over the next several years, viewers were fed a steady diet of comfy food and Super Bowl escape. Last year’s ad list, for example, strayed from that of its 2017 brethren and was a comparatively sweet exercise in expected commercial entertainment.
But here we are in 2021, and the world is very different. The past year alone has proven that America’s goals of decency, caring, and humanity are inclined to shift everywhere. First with the pandemic, then with the murder of George Floyd and others, centrist thinking seems a strange and outdated notion.
Add last week insurrection at the Capitol, and the idea of brands tackling anything political or issue-based seems like a dumb race, even if the CEOs of big companies have weighed in on it.
Yet December research by data intelligence firm Morning Consult paints a different picture. From those who expect to connect, 60% of over 1,300 adults likely to watch the Super Bowl said gambling is a suitable place for brands to promote issues, especially social justice, in their advertisements.
“It’s easy for people to think, ‘I just want three hours of entertainment on a Sunday night,’ said Drew Train, co-founder and president of the specialist agency Oberland. “But for generations we took the easy way out, and that’s what got us here. Brands need to use their loudest voice to put a stake in the ground. “
Read the room
According to Michael Serazio, Ph.D., an associate professor in the communications department at Boston College, the Super Bowl is a time for advertisers to read the culturally-related room. A few years ago, Serazio and his colleagues carried out a national survey which found that people did not want sport and politics to mix. Yet more recent research shows that American sports fans increasingly agree with the merger of the two.
“Marketers talk a lot about taking a brand stand,” Serazio said. “But it’s a cliché and they’re not really interested in taking a position that could potentially alienate half the country. It’s a way for brands to generically feel that they are part of this intense political moment without really committing to a complicated and divisive politics. I think that’s what you might see in the Super Bowl. “
Digging deeper, Morning Consult asked respondents what topics, posts and issues would result in a favorable opinion of a brand. Black Lives Matter ranks at the bottom of the list, # 12, just below Criminal Justice Reform and above Stricter Gun Control.