Brands Get Political…was it the Right Play?

Was the Super Bowl the right time and place for advertisers to make a statement?

Since President Trump’s election in November, politics have been the talk of the day. You can’t turn on the TV, check your Facebook, or even stand around the water cooler without catching some political conversations/debates/arguments.

Days after Super Bowl LI, people were still talking about the political overtones in some of the ads. Super Bowl commercials are a phenomenon unto themselves; a portion of those watching the game does so only for the commercials, so it’s no surprise that the political angles of this year’s crop of ads would have people talking.

From the minute-long Budweiser commercial sparking immigration debates, to a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter walking up to a huge border wall in 84 Lumber’s spot, to Audi’s ‘Daughter’ commercial being labeled as liberal propaganda, Sunday was rife with ads that got people talking.

Freshman advertisers got into the act too. While hair care product company It’s A 10 poked fun at “four years of bad hair,” Airbnb struck a more serious tone with its ‘We Accept’ ad; a clear criticism of the president’s travel ban executive order.

But while this year’s Super Bowl commercials went against advertising’s generally accepted conventional wisdom of ‘keep your politics to yourself’, were these ads in poor taste? Let’s let the numbers decide.

Social media numbers tell the tale

With social media being the modern day barometer of public opinion, Facebook and Twitter were a firestorm of debate, Likes, Dislikes and hashtags. What’s interesting to us is how the current political climate has inspired different interpretations of some of the Super Bowl commercials.

Take the Budweiser ad as an example. Titled ‘Born the Hard Way’, the spot showed Adolphus Busch’s journey from Hamburg to the United States with one goal in mind: to brew beer. People’s icy reception to Busch upon his arrival sparked outrage on social media, even spawning the hashtag #boycottbudwiser (yeah, we noticed the spelling error too).

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, the hashtag was still trending, with usage peaking at more than 7,000 tweets. With that kind of response, you would imagine that Budweiser just shot itself in the foot as far as offending its core consumer base. However, digital analytics company ListenFirst reports that ‘Love’ represented about 46.9% of all social emotion analytics. ‘Enjoy’ made up about 12.4% of emotions, and only 4.1% of reactions were the frowny face of ‘Hate’.


Airbnb’s #WeAccept ad (a new hashtag that was also still being heavily tweeted Tuesday morning), drove a 2,400% increase in social conversation, ListenFirst reports. And according to iSpot.TV, ad response was 65% positive. Analytics platform developer, Canvs, reports ‘Love’ was the most common emotional reaction on Facebook and YouTube at 41.5% and 14.6%, respectively. ‘Hate’, however, was the second-most common emotion on YouTube at 14%.

84 Lumber’s ad was probably the most debatable. While many proponents of immigration reform immediately took to Twitter to condemn the ad, which they viewed as promoting illegal immigration and likened the act of crossing the border to a “walk in the park,” the large door at the end of the ad seems to be in line with the president’s immigration platform. A response from the company confirms that:

“President Trump has previously said there should be a ‘big beautiful door in the wall so that people can come into this country legally.’ We couldn’t agree more.”

ListenFirst reports a 10,000% increase in social conversation. Top emotional reactions were ‘Love’ at 32.2%, and ‘Beautiful’ at 16.1%, according to Canvs. iSpot.TV said the overall reaction was 87% positive.

The ad was deemed too controversial by Fox and was not aired in its entirety. 84 Lumber’s website crashed when viewers tried to see the ending. So, to say that the privately held company made itself part of a national conversation is an understatement. That, coupled with a generally positive reaction, comes at a very critical time when the Pennsylvania-based company looks to expand to the western part of the United States.

So, will going political hurt these brands?

That’s the big question among marketing experts, and in our opinion, we don’t necessarily think so. People are habit driven. If people are in a habit and rely on a certain vendor or product that they like, they are not going to abandon that cold turkey. One commercial, at times, can wreck a business. But, then again, look at GoDaddy. Everyone thought their racy approach would hurt them, but it has yet to. Bottom line, like art, it is all subjective and open for interpretation.

Advertising, like art, tends to reflect social culture, and these Super Bowl commercials certainly address the country’s current tense political climate. We believe the initial shock of the ads will ebb and that the deeper meanings of some of these ads will continue to resonate long after.

From an analytical perspective, we see no evidence to suggest that these ads will hurt product sales. Reactions across the board were positive despite some of the grumblings that always exist on social media.

From a messaging standpoint, none of the ads were especially shocking to us. Many of the companies created ads that reflect their already established culture regarding social and political views. Odds are, if you agreed with a brand’s message before the Super Bowl, you probably agree with their message after the Super Bowl.

Advertisers should take that lesson especially to heart. If the Super Bowl is any indication of what’s to come, we likely haven’t seen the last of advertisements with veiled or blatant political messages. Our advice to anyone looking to go political: whatever your statement might be, make sure the message is on-point with your company culture. One sure-fire way to turn away your core customer base is to do a 180 on the ideals that made them loyal in the first place.