Goodman: Those politically charged Super Bowl ads: What did you think?


With the nation so divided politically these days — and with almost every subject tinged with politics — advertisers would have been forgiven for trying to be as neutral as possible during last night’s Super Bowl. What company, after all, would want to risk alienating half the audience with an ad that costs $5 million for 30 seconds?

Quite a few, as it turned out.

There was Airbnb, which showed an array of faces of people from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds, capped with the message: “We all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.” The ad followed the home-sharing site’s announcement last week that, in defiance of President Donald Trump, it will give free housing to refugees and others barred from entering the U.S. because of Trump’s travel ban. 

There was 84 Lumber, which told a story of a Mexican mother and daughter trudging toward the United States. The ending wasn’t aired. Fox rejected it as too controversial. So viewers were told to go to the company’s website to see the finish. The entire ad is almost six minutes long — a short film, really — which shows the determined immigrants stymied by an imposing wall at the border until entering through a door. The building-material company’s message: “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”

A company spokesman said the ad, an obvious slap at Trump’s proposed border wall, was meant to be a “patriotic” statement about the U.S. as “a great land of opportunity.” The firm’s bet on controversy may have been worth it; there was so much curiosity to see the commercial’s ending that the website reportedly crashed. 

Budweiser also delved into immigration, telling the story of one of its founders, Augustus Busch, as he voyaged from Germany and overcame obstacles that faced a newcomer with a dream of starting a brewery in 19th century America. 

Coca-Cola re-aired an ad from an earlier year showing a multi-national array of people singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. Google mined similar territory with an ad showing a variety of Americans (black, white, southeast Asian) coming home to diverse dwellings — one with a gay-pride flag, another a Jewish mezuzah — while a new device, Google Home, makes life cozier for everyone. 

Audi highlighted the lack of equal pay for women with a spot about a young girl competing with boys in a soapbox derby race, while her father speaks in a voice-over about his worry that she’ll be valued “less than every man she ever meets.” The issue of equal pay for equal work was a keynote of the Hillary Clinton campaign. 

So what do you think? Were ads like these — and there were some others — an unwelcome intrusion of politics into America’s biggest sports event? Or did they signify that the election of Donald Trump and his brand of “America first” cannot suppress a more accurate portrayal of the nation as a place that thrives on the energies of many different cultures and kinds of people?

Or, is it a matter of cold business? That companies realize that the voters who went for Clinton (a majority, remember) live in counties that generate almost two-thirds of the American economy. Trump’s counties, though far more numerous, generated only 36 percent of economic activity in 2015.

Perhaps it’s all as simple as that: Business aiming where the money is.

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