As we watched the Super Bowl last Sunday, we thought many of the ads we were seeing were just as exciting as the game itself (don’t judge us). The zeitgeist this year was definitely for brands to display a new social consciousness and sensitivity, almost certainly inspired by the divisive and contentious election year we just got over. Commercials that reaffirm our social values seemed to be where advertisers went this year, and they struck a chord, proving that it’s also what American audiences needed at this point in time.
Here are some of the ads that captured our attention:
Audi – “Daughter”
Using the simple concept of kids participating in a soapbox car race, the commercial draws a parallel between what a dad can tell his young daughter about gender equality, and what she is likely to encounter later on as she enters the workforce. Ultimately, Audi stated its commitment to equal pay for men and women.
Budweiser – “Born the Hard Way”
A preview of this Budweiser commercial was stirring up trouble even before the Super Bowl, but the company insists that it was shot before the November election. By showing Anheuser-Busch cofounder Adolphus Busch coming to America and the difficulties he encountered on his journey, the ad implicitly made the case that America has always been a land of immigrants looking for opportunity.
NFL – “Inside These Lines”
Even the NFL went with an earnest ad this year, using a montage of famous football moments as a narrator affirmed values of inclusion and sportsmanship, with any divisiveness being left behind when entering the lines of the football field.
Airbnb – “We Accept”
Airbnb had one of the boldest and most unapologetic ads because of its straightforwardness: it featured a mix of faces and bold text, with words across the screen stating “No matter who you are, we all belong”.
84 Lumber – “The Journey”
This ad was definitely the outlier, because it was one of the most talked about ads of the game, and yet came from a company many people hadn’t even heard of. Featuring loose moments in what appeared to be a Mexican family making a journey to cross the U.S. border, the commercial was partially censored by Fox and instructed people to visit the company’s website to see the full ad. The site immediately crashed under the pressure. The ad is ambiguous about its ultimate meaning, which is probably why so many people found it fascinating.
We were very interested in the phenomenon were witnessing with all these commercials. Earnest, inspiring, and socially conscious ads are certainly nothing new, but these ads were edgier and more willing to take a stand than the average Super Bowl fare. Advertisers were taking a risk (a single ad spot costs $5 million), but we think that risk paid off by helping them align with the feelings their audiences were experiencing at a very particular moment in American history. This, in turn, made the ads relatable and memorable.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without a slew of wacky ads. This year had more than a fair share, including Jason Statham kicking ass in a restaurant for Wix, Melissa McCarthy hilariously failing to save the planet for Kia, and Christopher Walken, well, Christopher Walken-ing an N’Sync song for Bai.
The one that stood out to us the most, however, was:
Square Space – “Who is JohnMalkovich.com”
In this spot, John Malkovich attempts to claim his domain name (for his new fashion line, nonetheless!), only to find out that it’s been taken by a different person by the same name. Needless to say, rage and hilarity ensues.