By Ellis Starkey
While the Super Bowl was full of its usual glitzy ads for summer blockbusters and fancy cars, this year’s commercial breaks had a more political vibe than in years past. Women, minorities, and immigrants were pushed to the forefront to promote inclusiveness during one of sport’s most divisive events. Below, I critique a few of the night’s more memorable commercials.
Google’s ad was not brand new, but the message behind the Google Home commercial was clear. Families of all kinds – small and large, young and old, gay, straight, and multicultural – come together in comfort with the help of Google. The familiarity of the ad was comforting, and the subtle hints of inclusivity, like the gay pride flag hanging in one window, set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Audi’s heartwarming ad followed a young girl through the trials of a box car race while her father speaks to us in a voice-over. His worries of what he’ll tell her about her worth compared to men are silenced by her fierce, hard-fought triumph. Through her, he sees a better, more equal future. Oh, yeah, and they climb into an Audi at the end.
Not every ad was so subtle. Lumber 84 showcased a Hispanic family – a mother and her young girl – making a “vague journey north”. In the second half of the ad, the family finally reaches the border, only to find a giant concrete wall in their way. The resourceful young girl takes an American flag – made from scraps found on their journey – out of her bag to cheer up her mother. When they look up, a crack is visible in the wall. The crack turns out to be a gate, built with lumber, dedicated to letting in those with “the will to succeed”. This obvious dig at President Trump’s plan for a border wall was so controversial that the second half of the commercial was not allowed to air, leading curious fans to crash the lumber company’s website in their race to see the family to safety.
Budweiser, famous in the past for their heartwarming ads full of puppies and Clydesdales, took a different approach this year. They too told an immigrant’s story, but this hopeful adventurer looked much more like the folks sitting at home than the women in the Lumber 84 commercial. This ad followed the journey of Adolphus Busch as he makes his way – legally, if not welcomed – into America to start his dream brewery. According to the company, the ad was not meant to be politically charged, but #BoycottBudwiser (sic) started trending immediately after it aired.
Even this ad was not so blatant as AIRBNB’s #WeAccept campaign, a quickly made response to some of the new president’s executive orders. Its direct message of inclusiveness, coupled with shifting images of a wide range of people, challenged the fear, hate, and divisiveness prevalent in the recent political climate. Their simple message, “The world is more beautiful the more you accept,” also sparked conversation online and #WeAccept was trending on Twitter on Monday.
However, we still have a long way to go. Look no further than the deodorant ads for proof that the old ways aren’t all gone. While Old Spice and Secret are both owned by Procter and Gamble, their ads were wildly different. While the women in the Secret ads must impress men in the high-stakes environment of a Super Bowl watch party, the star of the Old Spice commercial swings from vines, creates a language, and uses that language to insult a gorilla that still comes to his lecture. Stereotypes like these will be hard to press out of advertising culture, but hopeful, progressive ads are ready to fight for their right to be here.
Super Progressive? Probably Not.
Ellis Starkey is a native Mississippian who graduated the University of Florida in 2015 with a degree in Telecommunications. She now works with the Sarah Isom Center as a VISTA volunteer to promote education and equality for women. When she’s not fighting for social justice, Ellis can be found exploring the limits of vegetarianism, reading good books, and cuddling with her rabbit.