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Editorial: Don’t overblow Super Bowl ad controversies

A still from Budweiser's Super Bowl LI advertisement

A still from Budweiser's Super Bowl LI advertisement

A still from Budweiser's Super Bowl LI advertisement

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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The first Super Bowl of the Trump era was, in some ways, less political than expected.

The players on the field abstained from overt political statements. Lady Gaga’s halftime performance stayed surprisingly and decidedly apolitical. And few, if any, of the commercials that aired during the game’s TV broadcast would seem to generate controversy at first glance. But reactions from the audience hardly reflected that.

The focus of criticism during and after the game was on a group of ads dealing broadly with the subject of immigrants and diversity. But the extent to which these middle-of-the-road commercials made an impression was by far a more visible sign of the new president’s influence on our culture than the content of the ads themselves.

The first, an ad Budweiser originally aired a few days before the event and again during the game, chronicled the company’s founder’s journey from Germany to the United States in the 1840s. While the story was unquestionably dramatized, it almost certainly wouldn’t have drawn the ire it did had it been aired at last year’s Super Bowl.

Some interpreted the Budweiser spot as a veiled reference to the administration’s actions restricting immigration and reacted accordingly, either with support or with promises of a boycott. But the connection between the company’s ad and the executive order is a stretch, and it’s questionable whether it was even intended to be interpreted as it was.

Another company, vacationing app Airbnb, paid for a spot for the broadcast that was more unmistakably political in its praise for diversity. Airbnb’s ad focused on motifs surrounding inclusivity for everyone that featured prominently in last year’s presidential election. Another company, Pennsylvania logging business 84 Lumber, significantly redacted its five-minute-long Super Bowl commercial before broadcast. In its full, unaired version, 84 Lumber’s ad even managed to include the infamous wall.

Even with the handful of companies that courted controversy like these three, it’s hard to say that any of what aired during the Super Bowl was truly contentious. Odes to diversity and immigrants are hardly groundbreaking, especially in pop culture  — what is is our willingness to lionize and demonize the companies that make them in order to score cheap political points.

Broad-based support for immigrants in this country is vitally important, and the content of the commercials Sunday were reflective of a country of immigrants. Support for immigration — especially in such a mildly-delivered form — is not  particularly contentious in an immigrant nation. But 84 Lumber’s website crashed after its commercial aired because of a surge in traffic — it’s easy to see why the company took its supposedly principled stand.

If you’re going to boycott Budweiser or any other company that advertised during the Super Bowl because you support Trump or any other conservative candidate, that’s your prerogative. But whether you condemn or commend them, recognize that in general, support for immigration and diversity aren’t, and shouldn’t be, controversial.

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Editorial: Don’t overblow Super Bowl ad controversies