Arriving only two weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration, last year’s Super Bowl featured a number of commercials with strong political undertones, from Budweiser’s immigrant tale to the controversial 84 Lumber spot to an Audi ad about female empowerment. Even more so than usual, companies seemed to be capitalizing on the political current of the moment.
This year, advertisers sound committed to trying something different.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “humor, nostalgia and humanitarianism will be among the main themes, as many marketers look to play it safe and steer clear of controversy.”
Marketers are in a tough position. Consumers nowadays expect brands to make a difference in society and take a stance on important issues, ad executives say. However, a recent survey found that the Super Bowl might not be the right place for those topics.
Almost 65% of Americans say the Super Bowl isn’t the appropriate place for political messages, according to an online study conducted by Burson-Marsteller, a unit of ad firmWPP PLC. Some 67% of those surveyed say funny ads should be the priority, and almost half want to learn something new about a product.
The Journal quotes an executive from a branding firm saying companies are afraid of Twitter backlash and also a Pepsi executive who says “People are looking to smile a little bit.” Pepsi drew anger and mockery last April for its now-infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner solving the world’s problems with soft drinks.
Despite advertisers’ apparent hesitance, you shouldn’t expect the Super Bowl to be fully devoid of politics and social issues. WeatherTech’s ad, for one, features workers building a giant wall as an American flag flies overhead, with a final slide reading. “At WeatherTech, we built our new factory right here in America. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?” The commercial has already been criticized for its apparent political allusions.
As the Journal points out, not every company has unveiled its Super Bowl spots, so it’s possible some more politically minded commercials will debut Sunday. Overall, however, it seems as if such ads will be less prevalent this year than they were last year.