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The Big Gamble: Brands Take A Stand In The Super Bowl

Jeremy Braud

Jeremy Braud

Media Director

This year, Super Bowl advertisers tackled culturally divisive issues like never before. Instead of relying on crowd-pleasing humor that typically fuels Super Bowl spots, some brands took big risks by tackling a range of politically charged issues like immigration, diversity and equality. Below is a rundown of four of the most talked-about ads and their underlying strategies.


The CPG giant revisited a 2014 ad in which “America the Beautiful” is sung in different languages while the camera pans over America’s iconic landscapes. The ad – which featured minorities, same sex couples and various religious and cultural references – was controversial when it first aired. By bringing it back in 2017, the brand stated that we still need to learn the societal lessons of togetherness, happiness and diversity. The reaction online was mixed, but the brand stood by its principles and felt authentic.


Airbnb’s effort was the compelling #WeAccept spot. This spot squarely admonished the proposed immigration and travel ban with plenty of nods to gender, religion and orientation status. The ad was executed in just three days and was carefully crafted to stay within the NFL’s non-political guidelines. However, this ad gave a nod to the CEO’s openly political position against the travel ban, and the company has pledged to provide 100,000 people (including refugees) access to short-term housing in the next five years. The ad was a hit with Airbnb’s target audience of primarily younger, Bohemian travelers who already relish the idea of walking in other people’s shoes and sleeping in their beds. Still, the campaign’s hashtag was used by both supporters and detractors of the company.


Budweiser is a staple of the Super Bowl and each year has some of the most talked-about spots. Who doesn’t remember the Budweiser Clydesdales kneeling down in front of the World Trade Center for the brand’s September 11th tribute? This year, Budweiser offered an elegant reminder to Americans that at one time, we were all immigrants. The ad featured founder – Adolphus Busch’s treacherous journey to fulfill an American dream: making his German beer in America. The spot is powerful and authentic to the brand’s origin story, but not all of the brand’s fans were appreciative of the message. The spot was the most watched online, but some consumers are boycotting the brand for its seemingly pro-immigrant stance.

84 Lumber

The brand’s original 6-minute spot was banned from the Super Bowl for being too political. We speculate that the brand knew this was going to happen and that this rejection was part of its pre-airing strategy. The cancellation got them lots of attention before the game and allowed them to be less controversial on air while continuing the story online. Within one minute of the spot airing, 84 Lumber’s site received more than 300,000 hits – temporarily crashing the website.

According to ad agency Brunner, 84 Lumber wanted the ad to accomplish three things:

  • Generate awareness of the company
  • Create pride in its workforce
  • Fill jobs

The unaired video ends with a young mother completing another long, treacherous journey only to be stopped by a wall. She ultimately finds safe passage via a door. The spot left a lot of room for interpretation and its meaning has since been clouded by a series of comments from 84 Lumber’s CEO. While the ad seems to take a pro-immigrant stance, many of their core fans side with the administration’s policy towards immigration – making this ad a big risk for 84 Lumber. Regardless, the ad definitely accomplished its awareness objective by getting people to talk about the little known $3-billion company.

With so much at stake, why would marketers choose to risk millions on a controversial spot? Consider this:

  •  With over 40% of U.S. households watching, brands have a rare chance to cause a cultural inflection point.
  • “Super Bowl LI” is now the single most talked about television program ever, according to Nielsen Social Content Ratings, with 48 million social authors across Facebook and Twitter generating 191 million social interactions. Brands generating talk value became part of that conversation.

This kind of concentration of activity allows brands to elevate their voices and gives them a platform to express their brand values. If they can pull it off, they’ll be talked about for weeks or even years. And that is the type of risk that CEOs and marketers find exhilarating and irresistible. Even if there is a little backlash, brands will have endeared themselves to like-minded consumers and created a stronger affinity for their brands.



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