Every year on the first Sunday in February, the vast majority of people can be easily split into two categories: those who care about the Super Bowl, and those who just want to sleep off their lingering weekend hangovers. This year however, the biggest night in sports had a bit of added flair; nearly everything about the night could be viewed through a political lens. The last minute defeat of the Atlanta Falcons by the New England Patriots, a team that is generally favored by the alt right, easily resembled a certain fateful night in November. Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, though not nearly as politically charged as the right wing feared, did score a touchdown (pun absolutely intended) with the LGBT community, who were already probably feeling nervous about our new and famously bigoted president.
The most outwardly political aspect of Super Bowl LI this year however, was the ads. It seems as if everyone from car companies to Coca Cola to avocados had some sort of message directed at Trump. Some are saying that rebellion through consumerism isn’t rebellion at all. Others say that sending out a message no matter the forum is important in and of itself.
Coca Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” campaign first ran in 2014 and is arguably more relevant than ever now in 2017. The commercial features an array of diverse Americans singing “America The Beautiful” in 14 different languages while drinking, you guessed it, Coke. Its message is clear: Americans come in every race, religion, ethnicity and gender under the sun. They speak languages ranging from English, to Spanish, to Hebrew, French and Hindi.
For those who need further explanation about the message, Coca Cola released a statement shortly after the commercial was aired, “The premise of ‘It’s Beautiful’ can be simply stated: America is Beautiful and Coca-Cola is for everyone. It celebrates Coca Cola moments among all Americans and features snapshots of American families. We believe it’s a powerful ad that promotes optimism, inclusion and celebrates humanity–values that are core to Coca-Cola. “ It was a polarizing ad when it first aired and is even more so now, courting both vicious disappointment and vocal approval. Obviously Coke is trying to sell a product, but as a big name company in no obvious danger of going under, they would not have gained or lost points with anyone had they stayed silent on the issue. So does Coca Cola’s long-standing success take away from their commercial’s message? Or is their decision to re-air a three-year-old ad instead of creating a whole new one a powerful statement on its own?
At least Coca Cola remains consistent with its political stance. Audi released its own powerful ad with a female empowerment-driven piece featuring a father proudly watching his daughter beat out a group of angry little boys in a box car race. The optimistic end message of the commercial featured the father ‘s hope that his daughter would not “automatically be valued less than every man she’ll ever meet.” Audi professed its commitment to equal pay in the workplace and received a great deal of praise as well as several MRA members raging about the “wage gap myth.”
Unfortunately, women only make up about 12 percent of Audi’s corporate leadership, which does seem to take away from their message of equality. Though Audi’s Vice President of Marketing did respond to this statistic in a press release promoting the ad, stating, “Today, women comprise roughly 12 percent of Audi (USA) senior management workforce, including our senior VP, chief communications officer and senior director of human resources. In 2017 and beyond, we continue to support pay equality and pledge to put aggressive hiring and development strategies in place to increase the number of women in our workforce, at all levels.”
Gender equality is admittedly a trendy topic at the moment, so it’s no surprise that a company would want to use this politically relevant message to promote its brand. What does seem to be important about Audi’s use of the message though is that they commit to it in full. Audi also features a graduate internship program where 50 percent of enrollment must be female. They even used a female director on the “Daughter” advertisement.
Other companies seemed to shy away from their politicized advertisements in the wake of the obvious backlash from Twitter-happy Trump supporters. 84Lumber especially shocked many when their CEO and President Maggie Hardy Magerko was quoted in People Magazine as supporting Trump as well as the wall itself. 84Lumber’s Super Bowl ad seemed to make a grand statement targeted at this wall, portraying a mother and daughter’s harrowing journey through Mexico to America only to come in contact with the wall that Trump has been threatening so vigorously. At the end of the ad, which was deemed too controversial to be aired in full on Fox, a door appears in the wall, allowing the mother and daughter to enter safely into the country. The statement of an ad like this one is very clearly and strongly political, which is why it is so surprising and disappointing for 84Lumber to distance themselves from the politics inherent in an advertisement about the trials of immigration.
In a recent statement, Magerko tells BTRtoday, “The intent of the Super Bowl commercial, as well as the conclusion on Journey84.com, was to show that 84 Lumber is a company of opportunity. It isn’t about my beliefs, who I voted for, or the wall. It’s about highlighting the characteristics of a person that will go to great lengths for a new opportunity. If the President wants to build a wall, then we want to make sure there is a door in that wall. A door that’s open to those who choose to enter our country legally. The journey of the mother and daughter was a demonstration of the human spirit–grit, determination, and hard work. These characteristics represent what makes 84 Lumber and our country great. We want people that embody those characteristics, no matter where you’re from. If that’s you, our door is open.”
Which is all well and good, except that supporting a leader who is actively xenophobic and anti-immigration goes directly against the “grit and determination” that 84 Lumber claims to support in their advertisement. All of this makes it seem as if 84Lumber simply became afraid for their company once the #Boycott84Lumber tag started trending on Twitter. If you are going to use politics in the interest of personal gain, at least choose a belief system that you can stick with.
Let us be clear: These companies are absolutely using political statements to direct attention toward their themselves in the hopes that you will choose to purchase one of their products. That is not what is in question here. The question is whether there is importance in the very act of a big name company voicing a political opinion regardless of what that opinion might be. Generating conversation around an issue, causing high profile celebrities and politicians to take to their social media in a rage, and inspiring millions of think pieces (including this one!) on the subject is important. It’s important because silence is ultimately the worst stance that anyone can take about anything. Silence is arguably what put us in this very predicament in the first place. And while these name brands may not be entirely altruistic in their Super Bowl messages, at least they are saying something. At least they are aligning themselves with one side or another (looking at you, 84Lumber). Mostly though, the image of Donald Trump realizing he’s been shaded by a hair care brand is one that I think we can all agree is worth at least a set of applause if not last minute trip to the drug store.