The Super Bowl Stands Up to Trump—Subtly


Jacqueline Gogel


In the two-plus hours of primetime commercial television on Sunday night, it’s hard to pinpoint a particular ad that really sticks out. This year’s Super Bowl spots were a departure from games past, both in “wow” factor and memorability; no pint-sized Darth Vader to win our hearts, and no drunk driving awareness puppy to make us shed a tear.

No. But instead of writing off this year’s ads as duds, it’s important to take a closer look at a subtle but undeniable common thread among retailer initiatives: America needs unity now more than ever—especially for those who’ve been affected by the current administration—but we must elevate the conversation above partisan politics.

At no point were the ads explicitly anti-Trump or pro-Democrat. Instead, they managed to shift our attention to the success, both big and small, that comes from diversity and compassion. A few notable examples:

Take the Olympics’ ad featuring Lindsey Vonn. It’s hard to say whether the choice to feature Vonn was strategic, as she’s spoke out vehemently against Trump. But she’s also a famous, strong female athlete who’s defied odds to achieve her goals, so the pick may have been based on sheer visibility. Whatever the reason, the plug for female empowerment was undeniable. Between Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” and close-ups of Vonn’s scars among light-hearted glamour shots, we’re reminded of the limitations women face on a daily basis, and how satisfying it is when those barriers are broken.

Toyota’s “One Team” commercial makes a less subtle nod to embracing religious diversity, a hot-button issue for the current administration. The ad, which features four religious leaders on their way to a football game, is fresh take on the age-old joke, “a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar.” Not only does it speak to embracing those of different backgrounds, but it does so with subtle humor and dynamics nearly all viewers are familiar with. Like a scene out of “The Hangover,” the uber-responsible friend won’t drive until all his friends are buckled up, but isn’t above playfully messing with another friend as he tries to get in the truck.

Budweiser’s water commercial veers away from humor but speaks powerfully to its target audience—many of whom make up Trump’s voter base—about a humanitarian crisis largely ignored by the current administration. It paints a picture familiar to many Americans in the middle of the country: a white, heterosexual, working middle-class family up at the crack of dawn but home for dinner. But on this particular day, factory workers (another important detail here) are manufacturing water, not beer, for those in need.

The message is presented in a way that steers clear of politics and is told through a simple and relatable scenario for many Trump-supporting families throughout the country. It’s also worth noting that the story resonates not just because it’s compelling, but rather because it’s coming from Budweiser specifically. The brand prides itself on being “American” and, as mentioned earlier, has a customer base largely synonymous with Trump’s base. Budweiser is able to speak to its own people about an issue that needs to be addressed by the administration.

Coke’s “The Wonder of Us” ad was arguably the most subtle of the four commercials when framed as standing up to the current administration; but in many ways, it was the most powerful. The commercial shows people—gay and interracial couples; women in hijabs; men in wheelchairs—coming together to embrace the little things in life, like a Coke, that just make us happy. It blends attainable, feel-good imagery with copy that, for the first time, includes the pronoun “them,” recognizing the gender-neutral population. Again, the deeper meaning of the ad is in the details, but when called out, speaks volumes.