Talking Politics: Should Your Brand Step On The Field?


There are three things we are told never to speak about at the dinner table: religion, politics, and the consistency of Grandma Jean’s meatloaf. Last night, during Super Bowl LI, at least one of those commandments was broken when brands took the field to get political on America’s biggest stage.

It’s Monday afternoon; you’re already familiar with the commercials by now.

You watched the spot Airbnb bought on Thursday (!) and just “threw together.” The one that showed people from different backgrounds (all Airbnb employees, BTW), of different shades, spreading a message of unity with the hashtag #weaccept. The spot, piggybacking off the company’s promise to provide short-term housing to more than 100,000 people over the next five years, resonated and went viral by halftime. NBD.

You saw two spots from 84 Lumber – the approved Super Bowl version and the too-controversial-for-TV version. It depicted a mother and her young daughter journeying to make it into America only to come face-to-face with an insurmountable wall. The tag used in the spot? “The will to succeed is always welcome here.” Gut punch.

The brands above weren’t the only ones politicizing on a Sunday evening:

To the brands who showed up last night, rest assured, consumers heard you.

As a consumer, you may have cheered. Maybe it tugged at your heartstrings to see brands using their platform to spread messages of hope and unity and things that you believe needed to be said.

Or, maybe you didn’t feel that way. Maybe you rolled your eyes in annoyance because you were there for a football game (or for Lady Gaga), not to have some brand’s agenda stuffed down your throat. You didn’t care where Budweiser fell on immigration, but now that you know, you’ll proudly #BoycottBudweiser.

As a brand, is it worth it?

What happens when you politicize? What are the ramifications of stepping away from the standard patriotic Super Bowl spot and saying what you feel needs to be said?

Super Bowl commercials are known for pushing boundaries. However, they do so on the creative front. They don’t get outright political or often draw lines in the sand. Super Bowl spots are most known for being patriotic, sometimes overly so. They spread feel good, love-your-flag, be-proud-of-where-you-come-from, made-in-America messages. That’s what the audience of the Super Bowl expects and demands. They want Clint Eastwood narrating halftime in America. But, that’s arguably not what they got this year.

So… now what?

If you’re questioning whether these spots were worth it, we say they definitely were. Last night, advertisers got in front of half the American population. Advertisers spent big dollars to put their brand, their message and, this year, their beliefs front and center. If there was ever a time and medium to do it, this was it. 84 Lumber’s spot on immigration may not have been as well received as if it was sandwiched between an episode of Modern Family on a random Wednesday night, but during the Super Bowl with consumers tuning in for higher-level production and storytelling? Hell yeah, we’re tuning in. Pass us the snacks.

But what about the backlash? What about the rumblings on social media or the audience you have alienated who didn’t need, or want, to know where you fall on today’s hot issues? Leave them.

We believe your brand is more than just a combination of colors and textures. It is who you are, your beliefs and your vision for how things should be. Letting that fly, especially on advertising’s biggest night, is what will empower the people who already love you and what will attract the people who didn’t know you were the brand they always wanted to believe in. It’s what will take them from being a luke-warm fan to being obsessed with supporting you.

Will you lose some folks? Maybe. Maybe some people who don’t align with your beliefs will fall off. But we’re confident enough in our brand and the brands we work with to know that that’s okay. We hope you are, too. Companies who are afraid to speak because they’re trying to target everyone, alienate everyone by standing for nothing. You may not anger the masses, but you won’t excite them either.

That’s why Airbnb and 84 Lumber were the big winners last night. They saw an opportunity to bleed who they are and to share what they believe in and they TOOK it. They didn’t sit on the sidelines. They seized a (literal) million-dollar opportunity to stand out, to say something, and to share what they believe in with a massive audience. Isn’t that what buying a Super Bowl ad should be about? Speaking your most important message on the one day of the year you know people are listening.

In doing that, yeah, you may ruffle some feathers, but you’ll also excite others. And as we’ve said before on this blog, we’re okay with that. Excited people buy things. They also remember us, they evangelize us, and the hold us accountable.

Also, this:

Earlier this morning I sat down with Time Warner Cable News to discuss Winners and Losers of 2017 Super Bowl Ads and shared who I thought came out on top of the ad game (hint: it wasn’t any of the ads mentioned above). Check it out.