Advertisers in the 2017 Super Bowl struggled with staying topical while not getting bogged down in the current political divide.
Some companies took the humorous approach, such as 10 Hair Care Products, running a commercial that joked about the next "four years of awful hair." The voiceover exhorts viewers, "it's up to you to do your part by making up for it with great hair," while the rest of the 30-second spot showcased a variety of hairstyles from back hair to baby hair.
Other ads touched a sore spot. Budweiser aired the story of one of its immigrant founders, Adolphus Busch, in an ad titled, "Born the Hard Way." The commercial depicts the struggles Busch went through to make his way from Germany to St. Louis in the 1800s, including commentary such as "You're not wanted here" and "Go back home." While the commercial received praise, supporters of President Donald J. Trump called for a boycott of the beer brand, perceiving the ad as negative commentary on the current administration's immigration agenda.
Budweiser denied that it was making any political statement with the commercial. "We believe beer should be bipartisan, and did not set out to create a piece of political commentary," Marcel Marcondes, vice president for marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev, said in a statement. "However, we recognize that you can't reference the American dream today without being part of the conversation."
Pennsylvania-based lumber company 84 Lumber made headlines—even before the big game—for its commercial portraying a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter making a journey on foot interspersed with scenes of workers on a big construction project. The travelers eventually encounter a giant wall, before discovering that the construction project was a door enabling them to move through to the other side. The commercial ends with the line, "The will to succeed will always be welcome here."
The full ad was deemed "too controversial" by Fox and not allowed to air in its entirety, with the network demanding modifications. "I still can't even understand why it was censored," Maggie Hardy Magerko, the company's owner and president, told The New York Times. "In fact, I'm flabbergasted by that in today's day and age."
The ad that aired during the Super Bowl ended with the travelers encountering the wall and a note to viewers to visit the company's website to see the ending. Apparently the message worked, as 84 Lumber's site crashed from all the traffic.
To view the 10 Hair Care commercial, click here.
To see Budweiser's "Born the Hard Way," click here.
To watch the 84 Lumber ad, click here.
Why it matters: Super Bowl LI found advertisers walking a careful balance between being part of the conversation and becoming a lightning rod for criticism in a very contentious political debate—at an average cost of $5 million for a 30-second spot. As Magerko explained to the Times, "We didn't know this was going to be the hot topic six weeks ago. We knew it was a topic. We didn't know it was the topic."