Super Bowl 51: Opportunity for Social Engagement?

By Mariuxi Mansfield
Staff Writer

The Super Bowl is the biggest sport event in the United States. It has an average of over 100 million viewers every year, according to Nielsen.

Since no other time during the year do businesses obtain that extensive amount of viewership, it’s no wonder the Super Bowl has dragged companies to invest around $5 million to run a 60 second commercial during half time.

And while the commercials bring entertainment and an opportunity to sell to the largest television audience of the year, Super Bowl 51 was different.

This year, after such a controversial election, some advertisers made the decision to deliver emotional criticism related to race, immigration and equality.

Although making such bold statements in a commercial of any kind, especially an expensive Super Bowl spot, is pretty risky, there is no doubt that these ads got people talking.

Airbnb created a Super Bowl advertisement showing a diverse group of people and made a pointed statement with an equality-themed ad supporting their hashtag #weaccept.

The ad speaks for itself.

“We believe that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept. #weaccept.”

A source close to the company told CNBC that the three founders of the company bought the spot just one week before the game, after they found out that there was still ad space left, and edited the commercial themselves.

Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial, “Born the hard way,” depicted the story of Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant who endured swamps and mud, a steamboat fire and outright hostility when he set foot on foreign soil to pursue the American dream.

Although some people have been calling for boycotts of the beer supplier on social media through the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser, others have praised the company for personifying the struggle of people who came to this country.

Audi, the German car manufacturer, used its Super Bowl commercial to deliver a strong message that strikes the heart of gender equality.

It opens with the male narrator asking, “What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her that her grandpa’s worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets? Or maybe I’ll be able to tell her something different.”

The man’s daughter then overcame her competitors to win a race, and the ad closes with the message, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone.”

But probably the most controversial ad was 84 Lumber’s “The Journey Begins.”

The material supply company’s ad followed a young Mexican girl and her mother through their journey to America. During their journey, the girl collects little pieces of fabric and plastic. Eventually the mother and daughter approach a huge brick wall. The daughter reaches into her backpack and pulls out a small and tattered American flag. Walking along the wall they realize there is a massive door, made by 84 Lumber, and the two of them walk through the door.

The commercial ends with the message, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”

The ad was deemed too political by Fox, the broadcaster of the Super Bowl, and it had to be cut down. However, 84 Lumber aired the commercial in full on their website, as did many other television networks.

The commercial inspired both cheers and jeers on social media due to its depiction of the border wall.

“The intent of the Super Bowl commercial was to show that 84 Lumber is a company of opportunity,” 84 Lumber’s CEO Maggie Hardy said in a statement to The Washington Post. But while several Super Bowl ads this year stirred political controversy, most were meant to engage a particular set of their target consumers.

“We live in a very politically charged environment, and customers are looking for their favorite brands to take a side on issues—hopefully one that aligns with the customer’s own values,” Robert Lehmann, advertising creative director told CNBC via email, adding that brands need to provide a clear and authentic position to ensure their target audiences understand what the company’s core values are.