Advertising Expert: What To Make Of Progressive Brand Messaging

Advertising Expert: What To Make Of Progressive Brand Messaging
Advertising

Ginny Golden, Group Creative Director at AKQA, discussed the underlying trends and themes that ran through the Super Bowl advertisements' brand messaging this year

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 9 february 2017

In this year’s Super Bowl advertisements, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle and not so subtle symbols of unity and inclusion throughout. Brave brands like Coco-Cola, Air B&B, Audi, Budweiser, and 84 Lumber made their message loud and clear, while Go Daddy, T-Mobile, and Google Home were more subdued. Even the entertainment in the opener and half-time shows were on point.

Here’s a rundown of what I saw:

Inclusion was in the air from the very start. The cast from Hamilton set the tone for the evening by updating ‘America the Beautiful’ adding “and sisterhood” to the lyrical reference of brotherhood. The moment was best captured when the camera caught the look of surprise on Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s face when he heard the edited lyrics and smiled. I suspect there were millions more smiling with the small, but powerful addition to song. The timing being so close to the historical turn out for the Women’s March.

Shortly after the opening, a second performance of ‘America the Beautiful’ came in the form of Coke’s 2014 commercial, ‘Together is Beautiful’. Its multi-lingual, multi-cultural version of the song delivered a strong message that America isn’t one language, one religion, or one race, but one ideal.

Lady Gaga also delivered on the theme in a big way during her half-time show. She performed a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Americana classic “This Land Is Your Land” with the lyrics, “This land is made for you and me.” Followed by her hit song, ‘Born this Way’, an anthem for self-confidence and inclusion, especially with the LGBTQ crowd.

Budweiser and 84 Lumber’s coming to America stories were well timed and most importantly for an ad, got everyone talking. 84 Lumber’s spot which was too controversial for TV (aka Fox censored the ad) required you to go online to see the conclusion. The ad worked because during the half-time show, due to an overload of traffic, the website crashed. Tackling the politically heavy topic of immigration is risky – you either loved it, or took to Twitter to call for a boycott.

Google Home and Air B&B both had themes of diversity and acceptance. In Google’s ad, multi-national and multi-lingual families who had homes adorned with items, like a gay pride flag and a mezuzah, welcomed people in with loving hugs. Yet, the only headline Google will probably get will be for its technology and how the commercial activated the device for viewers at home. Air B&B tackled the immigration ban head on with a powerful message saying “we all belong”. Their message is backed by a 4M pledge to the International Rescue Committee. I’m heartened to see our business leaders being good global citizens too, by standing up for those most in need. This isn’t a brand exploiting an issue, this is a brand standing for something.

Another example of a progressive sentiment from a tech brand is Expedia. We’re shown a woman who expands her horizons with foreign travel. She witnesses soldiers guarding a border, and at one point embraces what appears to be a child refugee who’s making landfall in an inflatable boat.

But, let’s get personal for a moment. The spot that moved me the most was ‘Daughter’, by Audi which promotes gender equality. As a female working in a male dominated industry, this particularly hit home. There’s absolutely no subtlety about it. From the boys that jest and de-value her at the starting line to the provocative narration of her father during the race. It asks an important question about one of the biggest social issues of today: “What do I tell my daughter?” I relished in the story juxtaposed to an event known for its hyper-masculinity, especially hearing the question coming from a male perspective since the louder voices on the issue come mainly from women. This ad is a call for progress and I believe it is one of the best this year – a true inspiration.

The most improved player goes to Go Daddy. The brand is finally climbing out of its sexist hole from years past. Their spot incorporated an “Easter Egg” referencing the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), the world’s largest conference for female technologists with a #GHC17 button pinned to Internet’s backpack. With Go Daddy cleaning up their image, I was somewhat surprised, I only spotted two ads with bikini-clad women this year. That’s progress! However, one was a teaser for the new Baywatch movie. I feel like a free pass for that spot is justified. I mean, how else would you promote Baywatch?

Finally, for all the young athletes out there. T-Mobile, featuring Justin Bieber, celebrated the game with its #unlimitedmoves campaign. Towards the end of the spot, a young football player spikes the ball and shows everyone that girls can have moves on the field too. You could have blinked and missed it. T-Mobile isn’t exactly a sports brand, but the casting choice was intentional. It sends a message that females have a place in the male dominated world of football.

Unity, diversity, and inclusion was a thread through much of the game – sometimes obvious, sometimes not so obvious. With the nation on edge politically, it’s amazing how an ad that would have seemed apolitical just a couple of years ago can suddenly feel like a fierce statement. Businesses are sticking their necks out at the risk of social media warfare. With the threat of recent boycotts, I commend the brands, like 84 Lumber, Budweiser, Air B&B and Audi that have the guts to stand for something. How quickly times have changed, that when having a message of unity and inclusion can be so controversial. Love it or hate it, these are the spots that are winning because these are the spot that are sparking the most conversation.

Ginny Golden, Group Creative Director at AKQA, has worked on dozens of launches and initiatives for Fortune 500 brands, including American Express, Levi’s, P&G, Discovery Networks, and Borders. Her innovation in the redesign of Borders.com even earned her a US patent. Ginny was named one of thirteen “Creatives You Should Know” by Advertising Age in 2011. Her creativity has been honored at countless award shows, most notably the Art Directors Club, the One Show, D&AD, and Cannes. 

In this year’s Super Bowl advertisements, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle and not so subtle symbols of unity and inclusion throughout. Brave brands like Coco-Cola, Air B&B, Audi, Budweiser, and 84 Lumber made their message loud and clear, while Go Daddy, T-Mobile, and Google Home were more subdued. Even the entertainment in the opener and half-time shows were on point.

+advertising
+Entertainment
+fitness
+football
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+Public
+sport
+Super Bowl

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