Superbowl ads: clever controversy

Today, Superbowl traditions will not involve guessing what company will have the biggest commercial of the year. The biggest scandal we see will not be a wardrobe malfunction. A funny or awkward moment won’t be missed if you weren’t watching your TV at that moment.

Today, ads are being released before the Superbowl with extensive social media support. The controversy being sparked is through political statements that companies and performers are making, and how people are interacting on social media in response. Plus, anything remotely funny or uncomfortable will be made into an internet meme in seconds.

I am going to focus on some of the top Superbowl commercials, their meanings, social media support and social media response by viewers.

Here we go…



See commercial

#BoycottBudweiser was trending on Twitter all day yesterday even before the Superbowl or the company’s ad aired. The VP of Marketing of Anheuser-Busch said the ad was “created … to highlight the ambition of our founder, Adolphus Busch, and his unrelenting pursuit of the American dream [1].” It showed him immigrating from Germany to America, being told he wasn’t wanted there, but pursuing his dream to create the beer company. However, following Trump’s immigration ban, the positive and accepting immigration message it was sending sparked controversy with Trump supporters, who began to #BoycottBudweiser. The other side responded, sparking a full immigration debate on Twitter surrounding the beer and it’s ad. Some tweets are shown below:

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I am wondering if this type of response was predicted by Budweiser, and if they are happy with the outcome. Obviously a lot of buzz was created over the company and what it believes in, but did they expect a big negative response? I think given current events, they must have known this would spark controversy.  When some things trend like this it is ideal, free marketing for a company created by social media users, but I wonder if Budweiser is looking at it differently, as one twitter user pointed out… many Trump supporters are big beer drinkers.

84 lumber

See commercial

When 84 Lumber’s commercial aired, everyone I was watching with fell silent. One person who had seen the #BoycottBudweiser hashtag, but didn’t know what it was about, thought it would be the Budweiser ad. As we followed the tough journey of a girl and her mother trying to cross the border into the United States, the story ends abruptly with the 84 Lumber logo and a story slogan about inclusion. Within minutes, the real story is posted everywhere on social media – the ad was deemed too controversial and had to be cut in order to be aired. I think this made people more interested, crashing 84 Lumber’s website. The full version is in the video above, which specifically portray’s the “wall” Trump plans to build at the border, yet leaves a happy and inspiring ending.

For a company I hadn’t heard of, specifically a lumber company, I think this was a bold move and attracted them attention beyond what they could have expected. Again, they took a clear stance and received social media love and hate. Was their goal to create this hype around their company or was it merely to show their political stance? I think both.

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Following the inclusion theme, AirBnb and Coca-Cola highlighted that people of all genders, races, religions, sexualities, and so on were welcome. Coca-Cola played America the Beautiful behind diverse images of people and landscapes, and Airbnb showed close up faces with a message over them, ending in the #weaccept hashtag. By ending their message specifically with a hashtag, Airbnb was tying together a community and wanted to bring people together over social media. They also later tied #weaccept with Lady Gaga’s performance of “Born this Way” – a song emphasizing LGBTQ rights.

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Companies are getting smarter and smarter at creating buzz around their products and services in real time, but I find it truly amazing that so many companies took their expensive Superbowl opportunities to bring people together and promote positive messages, and many politicians spoke out to agree, rallying behind the #weaccept hashtag.

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See commercial

Audi also used its Superbowl ad spot to support a cause: equal pay for women. The ad was inspiring and stated their company’s support of equal pay outright. This also created a lot of talk around the #DriveProgress, a common theme of hashtags being placed in ads to start the conversation on social media. Coming after the Women’s March focused on this as a big issue, Audi continued the political Superbowl we were watching.

Mr. Clean

See commercial

On a non-political note, the Mr. Clean commercial set up an awesome social media response by Pine-Sol. The commercial featured Mr. Clean dancing seductively while cleaning, with the message that a woman loves a man who cleans. Pine-sol, a competitor with a female mascot, immediately challenged Mr. Clean to a dance off for charity, creating a poll on Twitter to entice users. They were also able to create graphics surrounding this idea in real time – something we discussed in class with Oreo’s quick “Dunk in the Dark” response. The company’s quick response was trending and the friendly banter was entertaining. We will see how Mr. Clean responds!

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  1. fayehubregsen · ·

    Interesting breakdown of the clever controversies in Super Bowl advertising. In the past the Coca-Cola ad featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages was driven in part by the misconception of it as the national anthem (which of course is the Star-Spangled Banner). Regardless, Coca-Cola chose to continue using this advertising concept for SuperBowl 51 perhaps speaking to the belief that all publicity (controversial or otherwise) can feed brand presence.

  2. laurenmsantilli · ·

    Loved this post! I definitely didn’t pick up on all of the commercials while watching the game, so glad I got a synopsis here. I liked the inclusion of tweets to illustrate and validate your points. I think that what Budweiser and 84 Lumber did was definitely bold – and I’m curious to see if it actually effects their respective sales in the future. My guess is it won’t have a lasting effect – and I assume their marketing departments assumed the same. I also think the #NotMyChampion hashtag on Twitter is interesting as non-Patriot fans are clearly jealous they don’t have Brady on their team. Definitely the most political Super Bowl to date!

  3. isabel_calo1 · ·

    There were so many types of commercials this year I am so glad someone addressed them! Like you mentioned earlier, no matter if people liked or hated the commercial they created a lot of bus around social media. Even if a few were controversial people were still talking about them, and honestly, that is what these companies want. I loved that a lot of corporation were taking a stand (even if it wasn’t political) and addressing the rights of humans and being open to all. Another theme that I realized from the commercials this year was that there were more sexual themed ones that usual ( ex: T-Mobile and Mr. Clean and Proactive). Does sex still sell? — Proactive – T-mobile

  4. joeking5445 · ·

    Thanks for the post. My anxiety was too high to focus on the commercials. From what I do recall, I enjoyed seeing the unifying messages that were sent by airbnb, coca cola, etc. I remember as a kid that the memorable super bowls ads were focused on slap stick humor. I wonder if the children/youth will remember the statements that were made by these organizations as I remember the Wasup and cheetos commercials.

  5. Nice post. I’m intrigued by the 84 lumber angle, because I would have expected that most of their base are construction workers and more likely to be Trump supporters (similarly with Budweiser). I was surprised by the tone of many of the commercials. Will be interesting to see if any of the backlash has any real-world implications.

  6. It’s interesting to see how people are so loyal to their beliefs that they will altogether stop using a brand. This has been a very emotional year for politics and companies have not been quiet for the most part. I thought this post was a great highlight of the companies that were clear about their stance. I think it’s important to send a message of inclusion, especially from a business standpoint. I wonder how long/if backlash against companies that put a political message on Superbowl ads will continue, or if people will move on to the next thing.

  7. Great post. I liked how you tied all of the themes together and teased them apart into categories. The 84 Lumber commercial was very bold for a company that is not nationally recognized by the average American like a company like Coca Cola or AirBnb is. It was certainly an interesting timing for a Super Bowl given that the Women’s March and immigration ban were just a few weeks and a few days before it.

  8. Awesome post! I loved how you really hit the highlights of a ton of different commercials–seeing them all in one list really emphasized how politics-heavy the Superbowl was this year. One of the things I’ve been talking a lot about with friends & in class over the past few days is whether or not these more political commercials were a good idea from a marketing standpoint. Do you think these commercials were made because the companies actually feel strongly about the political issue and feel they need to take a stand as influencers, or is it just a strategy? And if it’s a strategy, is it a good one? It’s likely that companies Budweiser, 84 Lumber, Audi, and maybe even Coca Cola, have more conservative consumers, meaning they could have just isolated a lot of their target market. On the other hand, though, maybe these commercials were targeting the more liberal/younger viewers in attempt to expand their markets. I would love to get inside one of those board meetings & hear the real motivations.

  9. zfarkas17 · ·

    Great post. I think that part of what made many, not all of these ads controversial was this years political climate, in past years I think many would have gone under the radar in that regard. I think the companies were very aware of the responses they would get, especially Budweiser and, 84 lumber. These are companies that understand their demographics. The response to Audis ad is most troubling, the good news for Audi is that most of the people who can afford to buy them also believe that the wage gap needs to be addressed head on. But it is disheartening to read comments on their video of people who don’t think men and women should be paid equally.

  10. lesleyzhou · ·

    What I found most interesting was that most of these ads were created many months ago (or perhaps even a year ago) in order to snag a spot for 2017. In other words, the emphasis on inclusion within these ads were decided upon way before the immigration ban that happened 2 weeks ago. Thus, I don’t think any of these companies were anticipating the intensive backlash they got via Twitter and other social media channels from supporters of the ban. On a side note, my marketing professor made a comment on how the 84 Lumber “website crash” could have actually been planned so to increase hype and get people talking about the company, not sure if anyone else thinks that could be true…?

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