In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, there was intense speculation over what role politics would play in the big game. This was particularly in regards to what many consider the most entertaining part of the whole spectacle: the advertisements. Super Bowl commercials are known and anticipated for being more ridiculous or having a higher production value — becoming a sort of cultural phenomenon on their own. Political demonstrations in sporting events, like Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, haven’t been met with warm support in the past year, but because companies were creating ads specifically for one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, it was clear they might use the opportunity to send a political message.
Before the Super Bowl even aired, Fox Broadcasting rejected at least a few ads, including one from 84 Lumber depicting a mother and daughter’s prescient story of immigration featuring an expansive wall separating Mexico from the US. This ad clearly has specific political aims and Fox asked that it be “retooled” before airing. In the end, many ads with more subtle political messages made it on the air. Budweiser aired an ad featuring the story of Adolphus Busch’s immigration from Germany to America, which Breitbart criticized for being “pro-immigration.” AirBnB’s commercial featured a hashtag: #weaccept. Google’s advertisement for their Google Home smart speaker featured people from a range of races and backgrounds, which, alarmingly, seems revolutionary for an advertisement to do. In an Audi ad, a father speaks about his fear that his daughter will be valued less than a man when she grows up, after which Audi affirms their support for equal pay.
I have mixed feelings about large companies using their platforms for political messages. Overall, though, I think this was a positive occurrence because the ads generally focused on inclusion and compassion as their “revolutionary” aims. My only reservation comes from the power dynamic inherent in advertising. As I’ve written before and everyone is aware, advertising is inherently manipulative and although these messages are positive, like every act of publicity, we should take it with a grain of salt. Yes, these companies probably stand behind these ads and their ideologies, but they are also trying to make a statement for their own gains. Every ad that had even the slightest political metaphor was featured on the news or blogs online. Paying for the Super Bowl spot resulted in exponentially more viewings of these company’s ads simply because they were subtly political. I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl, but I’ve watched all of these advertisements.
It’s hard to find a viral demonstration of political resistance that doesn’t directly benefit the demonstrator in some way. The fact that these ads go viral is because the companies have access to a large audience. It takes a huge number of individuals to achieve the same effect (one recent example is the Women’s March). I think, at this time, we need to accept and appreciate resistance and solidarity where we can find it, but particularly support grassroots demonstrations over corporate ones.