By Thomas Kolster for Sustainable Brands, February 13, 2017

The political unrest seems to be good for advertising with a conscience, as this year’s Super Bowl saw the highest number of Goodvertising campaigns ever.

In an uncertain time for America, how good was this year’s Super Bowl? Another year has passed and as I usually do in June with the Cannes Lions, I also note Super Bowl commercials as a barometer reading of how “Goodvertising” – advertising that does good for people and the planet and, in most instances, helps brands perform better financially as well – is being picked up by advertisers.

Do voices for good become stronger in uncertain times?

As global temperatures are breaking heat records (and Trump’s executive orders are being scribbled like a zealot with hypergraphia), there’s also an increase when it comes to brands speaking up for a good cause. I’m definitely seeing goodvertising entering the mainstream and that is truly good news. Out of 51 commercials that aired during Super Bowl, 10 of them had a Goodvertising message. That’s the most to date I’ve observed – and it’s also the most political Super Bowl I’ve ever witnessed.

Back in 2010, it was Pepsi who daringly pulled its usual star-studded commercial to put resources towards a community-improvement project called Project Refresh. This year Airbnb felt so provoked by the current turn in political climate towards refugees and immigrants that it decided to act and did a last-minute commercial with a strong message of diversity, called “We Accept.” It wasn’t the usual big-budget Super Bowl ad, but its simple storytelling did the job. “We Accept” also signals a tendency for brands to increasingly speak up and defend their values. Employees and customers increasingly expect brands to do and say their part; we saw with the recent Uber controversy what happens when a brand is not clear about its values – see the subsequent Uber boycott, which led to CEO Travis Kalanick’s decision to step down from the President’s Advisory Board. Are we going to see more of this type of advertising in the years ahead or is it simply a company’s unusual response to an unusual presidency?

Yet again the climate is the loser

This year, Super Bowl ads were more political than any other before it and there was one big theme: diversity & equality. Yet again. the polar bears were bypassed and left on the melting ice – except for one brand, which finally turned climate campaigning into a fun story. The message is reminiscent of Rainforest Alliance’s renowned “Follow the frog” campaign, with a promise that it shouldn’t be difficult to do the right thing; as Kia declares in its commercial touting its new, more fuel-efficient crossover vehicle, the Niro: “It’s hard to be an eco-warrior, but it’s easy to drive like one.”

One cause got all the attention: Diversity

Hyundai touted support of the troops with a family reunification message and Audi declared its commitment to equal pay for equal work in a poetic narrated story about a girl racing in a go-cart, but that was pretty much it for any other themes. The rest of the Goodvertising campaigns seemed to have a message not only to stereotypical, chicken-wing-devouring football fans, but equally so to President Donald Drumpf (as John Oliver wants us to call him). Lumber84The Entire Journey” took a hard hit at the wall-building efforts with its cross-platform storytelling about a Mexican mother and child; and Coca-Cola took an almost artificially sweet approach to the equality theme with “Together is beautiful” (am I the only one who misses Coke’s old “Open Happiness” platform?).

Budweiser struck an emotional chord with the story of a struggling German immigrant coming to America to brew beer, a story which should be a stark reminder to the US President, who seems to have forgotten his German roots (Drumpf is Trump’s old German family name, according to Oliver). Celebrating diversity in hair is apparently also important, according to hair care brand It’s a 10, which in its commercial did exactly that in many different shapes and colours (along with pointing out that we’re entering a period of “4 years of awful hair”).

Politicians don’t create change – you do

Not every brand was as direct in its political rhetoric, but the messages were still targeted. Travel site Expedia shared a message that echoed former President Barack Obama’s endless series of farewell speeches: If you want to change something, “The key is you.” Honda struck a similar note, continuing its “Power of Dreams” platform, which is a reminder to believe in the change within you.

Ballsy brands or just truly purposeful?

It’s a daring move for brands (and unseen on such a scale) to be so political in their advertising, but the risk might be easy to oversee, as the President’s approval ratings are the lowest of any President since the polls have been running. Starbucks’ commitment to hiring 10,000 refugees around the world quickly attracted a boycott by people who couldn’t understand why the company wasn’t hiring 10,000 unemployed people in the United States. That said, Goodvertising for me is about inclusion and the Super Bowl commercials touting diversity for the most part seemed to be digging at a deeper value divide in America. It’s a difficult balancing act, which is not going to be easier going forward, but I must applaud corporate America and the brands with purpose (and balls) enough to dare to speak up, when faced with a government that seems to jeopardize American (and many companies’) values.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us to buy into the brands whose values we believe represent us the best. Maybe it’s in times of crisis, when injustice and prejudice seem to prevail that the good voices become stronger. Great leaders show us a better version of our country and ourselves – and brands should do the same. If there’s one final take-away from this year’s Super Bowl, I’ll leave it to the former President to bring it home. Only a couple of weeks ago in a farewell speech in his hometown of Chicago, Obama said, “I am asking you to believe – not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours.”

The 10 Goodvertising campaigns:

Kia Niro “Hero’s Journey” by David&Goliath
It’s a 10 Haircare “Super Bowl Commercial” by Havas Edge
Airbnb “We Accept” by TBWA\Chiat\Day
Audi USA “Daughter” by Venables Bell & Partners
Expedia “Train” by 180la
Honda “Yearbooks” by RPA Advertising
Coca-Cola “Together is Beautiful” by Wieden+Kennedy
Budweiser “Born the Hard Way” by Anomaly
Hyundai “A Better Super Bowl” by INNOCEAN Worldwide
84 Lumber Company “The Entire Journey” by Brunner


© 2020 Thomas Kolster. All Rights Reserved.

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