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The Politics of 2017’s Super Bowl Commercials



In times like these, everything becomes politicized, and that includes Super Bowl ads. Of course, the ads have always been political, with various companies being called out for sexism, racism, whitewashing, and classism over the years. But given the recent election and Trump’s executive orders, the issues of xenophobia and sexism have become far more pressing for Americans, and the three ads below chose to address just those topics. I’m sure more ad controversies will pop up once the actual game airs, but for now, here are the ads that seem to have the internet most up-in-arms.

Budweiser’s Immigration Ad

Budweiser chose quite the year to air an ad about the immigration of their founder, Adolphus Busch, to the United States. Facing challenges like, “You don’t look like you’re from around here,” and jeers of “Go back home!”, Busch perseveres in pursuit of his brewery dream. It’s hard to ignore the symbolic significance of Busch’s life story, but Budweiser’s vice president of Marketing, Ricardo Marques, claimed otherwise. “There’s really no correlation with anything else that’s happening in the country,” he said. “We believe this is a universal story that is very relevant today.” That statement didn’t stop many conservatives from tweeting their plans to #BoycottBudweiser. (Since its parent company is the official beverage sponsor of the Super Bowl, this will be impossible to do inside the Super Bowl stadium.)

Audi’s Wage Gap Ad

Automobile manufacturer Audi aired an ad to tout their commitment to equal pay. As a father watches his daughter compete in a race, he wonders to himself: “What do I tell my daughter?…Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” While the trope of a man suddenly recognizing that sexism exists just because he has a daughter remains as clueless and reductive as ever, I have to admit I was a sucker for the little girl’s victory in this video. Still, the ad has plenty of critics. Progressive viewers have pointed out that Audi has zero women on its Management Board and only 2 women on its 14-person U.S. executive team, so the ad is rather hypocritical. Conservative viewers have decried it as leftist, feminist propaganda.

84 Lumber’s Border Crossing Ad

The original conclusion of this ad, about a Latin American family apparently making their way to the U.S. border, was actually rejected by Fox for being too controversial. As a result, viewers will only be able to see the mother and daughter reach their destination on 84 Lumber’s website. The ad is seen mostly through the daughter’s perspective, highlighting both her childlike wonder at small joys and the wide unknown of her journey.

While I appreciate any attempts to mainstream compassion for immigrants and awareness of sexism, it’s easy enough to see that these companies have an ulterior motive. What is that Audi father going to tell his daughter about climate change, or the gender composition of Audi’s C-suite? What sort of pay and benefits does Budweiser provide for the immigrants who harvest its ingredients and deliver its products? How does 84 Lumber treat its employees–and the environment? As entities trying to sell us something, the companies behind these commercials usually aren’t progressive heroes, but it’s also okay to acknowledge that they took a risk in spotlighting the experiences of the marginalized.

In sum, it’s great to give these companies credit–but just as far as credit is due.

(Via Business Insider, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated; image via screengrab)

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