10 of the Most Socially Conscious Super Bowl Ads of All Time
The Super Bowl is about way more than football and chicken wings.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy isn't the only thing at stake this Super Bowl. With 111.9 million viewers tuning in last year, advertisers are set to pay upwards of $5 million for a 30-second spot when the New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons on February 5 in Houston.
Because of social media and the internet, advertisers have more access to consumer information than ever before and shape their ads to reflect what they think our values are. In this sense, Super Bowl commercials are a way for the country to look itself in the mirror and see what issues are important at the time of the game.
Most of the ad slots will be used to promote beer, soft drinks, chips, and cars. But with that many eyes on television screens, the opportunity to make a statement to the nation is completely unmatched – and there have been some occasions in the past when companies have taken advantage of the gargantuan audience to spread political messages.
With women becoming a crucial demographic for the NFL amid declining ratings, Donald Trump’s administration enacting controversial policies, and the firebrand Lady Gaga performing the half-time show, we could be in for the most socially conscious Super Bowl ever.
So, in preparation, here are 10 Super Bowl ads for Global Citizens.
Budweiser “Born the Hard Way,” 2017
This ad was made before Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, but its timing couldn’t be better. It depicts Adolphus Busch arriving in America from Germany and the xenophobia he endures while traveling to St. Louis, where he meets his soon-to-be partner Eberhard Anheuser.
Budweiser maintains that the ad is not political, but it’s impossible to overlook its embrace of America’s identity as a nation of immigrants.
Audi “Daughter,” 2017
Audi is set to run this ad on Sunday, in which a dad contemplates how he will explain quantifiable sexism to his daughter as she competes in a soap box derby.
“Do I tell her that her grandpa’s worth more than her grandma?” the narrator asks himself, “That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued less than every man she ever meets?”
According to the Pew Research Center, progress has been made in terms of bridging the wage gap, but men continue to out-earn all demographics of women in terms of median hourly income.
Though there are other factors at play, like education, the report maintains, “looking just at those with a bachelor’s degree or more education, wage gaps by gender, race and ethnicity persist.”
Dove, “#RealStrength,” 2015
Traditional gender roles associate men with careers and women with raising families. This heartfelt advertisement from Dove challenges those stereotypes — as dads take part in their kid’s lives from infancy to adulthood, through life events, during times of joy and sorrow.
A study published last October concluded that the amount of time fathers spent on activities with their children increased from 16 minutes per day in 1965 to 59 minutes per day in 2012. Mothers averaged 104 minutes per day.
The placement of the ad during the Super Bowl contrasts with the aggression on the field, and supports the message that being a “real man” is about more than just physical toughness.
NO MORE, "Listen: 60" 2015
Most Super Bowl ads aim for humor, but domestic violence is nothing to laugh about. In that light, NO MORE's ad from 2015 is a sobering glimpse at what domestic violence looks like. As we see images of a disheveled home, we hear a victim make a 911 phone call disguised as a pizza order because she can’t make an open plea for help.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner, and there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines in the US on a typical day.
This ad is extremely pertinent to the NFL, a league which is plagued by domestic violence suits.
Always, “#LikeAGirl,” 2014
Saying that someone does something “like a girl” is used colloquially as a put-down. Always’ Super Bowl ad from 2014 turns the phrase on its head. By asking men and women of different generations to perform different actions “like a girl,” the Always campaign demonstrates how young women are reclaiming the phrase and turning an insult into an empowering rallying cry.
Coca-Cola, “Together is Beautiful,” 2014
Coca-cola’s ad from 2014 promotes multiculturalism within the United States by featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages.
The visuals begin with arguably the most emblematic image of the United States: a cowboy riding a horse. But as the ad continues, it shows people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities watching movies, surfing, dancing, camping – activities as diverse as the citizens of this nation.
The ad faced fierce criticism, as many took to social media with the hashtag #SpeakAmerican. Nevertheless, Coca-Cola stood by its message, re-airing the ad during the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The irony is, by featuring seven languages, the ad actually falls short of “speaking American.” In fact, the Census Bureau identifies 382 different language groups spoken in the US.
GoldieBlox, “Rocket Ship,” 2014
GoldieBlox creates toys, books, and multimedia that encourage girls to love science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Naturally, their commercial portrays girls using their stereotypical pink toys to build a rocket ship.
Set to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “Come On Feel the Noise” with rewritten lyrics, the girls singing “It’s more than pink, pink, pink / We want to think!” drives the message home.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, women made up 24.7% of the computer and mathematics workforce and just 15.1% of the architecture and engineering workforce.
Microsoft, "Empowering," 2014
In this 2014 ad from Microsoft, former NFL player Steve Gleason narrates: “Technology has the power to unite us. It inspires us. Technology has taken us places we’ve only dreamed. It gives hope to the hopeless and it has given voice to the voiceless.”
The last phrase hits home for Gleason. In 2011, the former NFL player (who has a statue outside of the New Orleans Saints’ stadium, the Superdome) announced he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, An aggressive neurodegenerative disorder, ALS targets nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, ultimately rendering the person unable to move, speak, eat, and breathe.
Since then, Gleason has been working to develop wheel chairs and speech technologies that can be operated by a person’s eyes.
Beyond Gleason, the optimistic message coincides with scenes of people connecting via webcams from opposite sides of the world, children learning to use prosthetic limbs, and a woman hearing for the first time in her life.
As the ad proves, technology truly has the power to help people overcome physical limitations and bring humanity together.
Audi, “Green Police,” 2010
This ad (also by Audi) from 2010 caused some outrage, as many were angry with the totalitarian tactics and home invasions used by the “Green Police.” If the viewer appreciates the use of hyperbole, however, the commercial reveals some of the simple things we can do to help protect the environment – like reducing how much plastic we use, properly recycling batteries, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with eco-friendly fluorescent bulbs.
According to a report from the 2016 World Economic Forum, by 2050 the amount of plastic in the Earth’s oceans will outweigh its fish, at the current rate.
Macintosh, “1984,” 1984
In 1984, Apple began the “Super Bowl commercial” craze with its ad for the Macintosh. It was the first ad specifically created for the Super Bowl and only aired once.
It portrays a dystopian 1984, not unlike the one depicted in George Orwell’s iconic novel of the same name.
Notable for having a female lead decades before Super Bowl commercials started catering to women, the ad promoted creativity and free thinking.
Regardless of their underlying messages, it is important to recognize that these ads exist to sell us consumer products. Nevertheless, they provide a platform to highlight global issues. Apple’s Macintosh commercial is directly responsible for creating that megaphone.
Most of these ads came from the last three years, which is somewhat disappointing, considering how long many of the problems they address have plagued our society.
But a trend is clearly forming – social consciousness is becoming profitable.