Super Bowl ads aim for profit, not social activism

Many of the ads during this year’s Super Bowl had political messages, but none generated more interest and controversy than 84 Lumber’s. The ad told the story of a Mexican mother and her daughter undergoing a difficult journey to reach the United States border. Though this ad may seem politically potent, the noncommittal reaction from and target market of 84 Lumber have lessened its message, reflecting higher prioritized commercial motivations.

Fox believed that the 84 Lumber ad was so controversial that it refused to air it in its entirety. An edited version was shown instead, which encouraged viewers to visit 84 Lumber’s website to view the conclusion. The end showed the mother and daughter making it to the border and entering the U.S. through a wooden door in President Donald Trump’s proposed wall, built with lumber from the sponsor company.

The ad sparked strong reactions on social media, with many audience members debating the proposed border wall and the status of illegal immigrant. 84 Lumber Director of Marketing Amy Smiley, however, stated that “the message isn’t about immigration” but rather the characteristics the company looks for in employees, specifically the will to succeed.

Steve Radick, who works for the ad agency that created the commercial, claimed that the ad incorporated modern political issues to tap into pop culture and avoid having a bland message. 84 Lumber had another motive to focus on immigration. The company sells to construction workers and subcontractors, many of whom are immigrants themselves. An ad that the American public viewed as a bold statement about the immigration crisis was actually just a clever advertising trick to encourage sales.

84 Lumber’s strategy appears to have worked. The 84 Lumber website had 300,000 views within minutes of the commercial airing with the ad being viewed 3.4 million times on YouTube within 12 hours of its Super Bowl spot. Other ads with political tones that aired during the Super Bowl, such as Budweiser’s commentary on immigration and Audi’s message about equal pay for women, also garnered many views online and a large amount of attention on social media, indicating that the strategy of tying political issues into commercials is effective in calling the public’s attention to a product.

This is hardly the first time corporations have attempted to hop on the social justice bandwagon to help improve their image and increase profits. Typically, the political nature of commercials will depend on the hot topic at the time. For example, few years ago the main topic of political discourse in advertising was LGBTQ+ rights. One by one, companies began placing white, cisgender same-sex couples in their commercials in an effort to show more diversity. They only did so, however, to appease to a more progressive audience, especially younger people.

Though this strategy may be good for business, it does nothing to help any of the issues the ads relate to.

By refusing to take a stance, companies like 84 Lumber only use the suffering of others to help sell their product, manipulating public sentiments on controversial issues, but failing to advocate for marginalized groups in a meaningful way.

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Madeline is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected].

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