Probably the most common headline regarding the Super Bowl ads this year is how some brands chose to ‘get political’. Particularly noteworthy were Airbnb and Coca-Cola. This is leading to a debate about the role of brands in politics and social movements. Are they supposed to steer clear, or dive in?
A lot of people would argue that brands should steer clear of politics.
After all, it’s not their role and we should always be concerned about the combination of brand spend power with that a political message that ultimately has business objectives at its core (*cough – Trump).
But what about when social changes and movement become a central part of the cultural landscape in which a brand operate?
What about when it’s the looming shadow by which all messages are consumed and interpreted?
At what point does the political landscape become the cultural one?
If advertising strategy is supposed to draw from the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society, are successful brands historically not the ones who survive or thrive in major cultural shifts and movements by ‘standing for something’?
If you disagree, consider the latest ad from Coca-Cola…
Oops, wait – sorry – this is it…
We haven’t just been at this crossroads in marketing historically. We’ve been here before with the exact same brand.
The 1971 ad was so prolific, so industry-changing, it was selected as the final character destination and creation of fictional adman himself, Don Draper. As Draper (OK Jon Hamm) explains, ‘Back in the 70s this idea of selling out or commercialising everything was touchy, coming out of the counterculture. Art was supposed to be pure. The genius of [the Coca-Cola ad] was that it was the first time they [advertisers] really got the sentimentality of it that was ‘real’ and ‘worked’…but was also commercial. ‘
Fast forward to present day and its the politics of Trump instead of Nixon, Syria instead of Vietnam, the information race instead of the space one, black lives matter instead of… oh wait that one is still something of a major issue. Is Coca-Cola just repeating ad history, based on a recognition of a culture shift and an insider understanding of what’s worked before?
Based on these Super Bowl ads, are we facing into a major shift in brand communication to reflect a major shift happening in our culture?
Should brands ever ‘pick sides’? Is there is a line?
Has everything changed, or nothing?
What do you think?
Here are some thoughts on the Airbnb Super Bowl ad and brand in general too…