SuperBowl Ads in a Networked World

Another SuperBowl has come and gone, as has the initial excitement over the new, flashy, expensive advertisements that so gracefully plague our television screens during commercials. OK yes, while I usually mute the channel when a commercial comes on during my regular TV binge-viewing, I had a change of heart for the SuperBowl. I was (ashamedly) looking forward to seeing what the corporate monsters have thought up this time during the year’s biggest event. Except this time, the advertisements aren’t just trying to sell a product/service, but rather, hoping you’ll talk about them over social media. And talk, we did.


Social Media is Watching… and Judging

We all know by now that social media is relevant – it’s not going anywhere. It’s here to stay and it’s as loud as ever. And what does this offer companies looking to promote their brand? Like, A LOT. While the exposure can be either really beneficial (I’m talking to you ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) to dreadfully destructive (looking at you, Gerry Hamilton), social media is going to find a way to talk about it. In Scott and Alison Stratten’s book Unmarketing, the two social media experts explain that when there’s an issue with your product/service/(ad), the people of the Internet will come together and now “you have a good old-fashioned revolt on your hands.” Gone are the days of calling a customer service line and complaining (I mean, you could still do this if you were like, a dinosaur) and in are the days of complaining to @United on Twitter about how their airline lost your baggage and there was a loud, crying baby on your flight.

Anyways, how’d this year’s SuperBowl ads perform? 

Well, to put it simply, quite politically. At least, that’s how the Internet responded. In this current political climate, with newly appointed Donald Trump as president, 2017 has been anything but boring. In light of the recent controversial executive order on immigration, many people have taken to social media to express their thoughts and people were quick to notice underlying political themes in this year’s SuperBowl ads. And through this, lies emotion, which according to Alfred Hermida’s book Tell Everyone, is the reason people share and talk about content online. Emotions that “trigger a response” are more likely to be shared, and that’s exactly what happened.

It’s a 10 hair care poked fun at Trump’s locks, Budweiser talked immigration and the American Dream, Google Home boasted diversity, Audi tackled the wage gap, and Airbnb encouraged acceptance. In a climate of uncertainty, these brands decided to take a stand and send a message. How it was received was up to the public.

When Ads Go Awry

This didn’t go over as seamlessly for 84 Lumber, a – you guessed it – lumber company whose advertisement swept the public by storm as they took to social media to discuss the brand’s intentions. For a brief recap, the ad followed a mother and daughter as they traveled from Mexico to the U.S., entering through a door (made of… lumber).

Interpretations? There were many.

Some criticized the ad for promoting illegal immigration..

…While others praised the ad for its message about inclusion and rejection of the president’s stance on immigration.

In the end, the company’s owner ended up confessing the ad was really just a pull on the heartstrings, not meant to be politically-driven whatsoever (in fact, the owner is a Trump supporter). The company’s website crashed, the Internet lost its mind, and a point was proven – social media matters in a networked world. It’s changing the way we consume, the way we interact, the way we communicate.

How to Respond to the Feedback

If you ever find yourself in the middle of a social media crisis, engage. According to a blog post on Start a Fire, one major social media mistake is ignoring comments and conversations relating to your brand. A way all of these controversial ads could better market themselves is to engage with the audience, respond to their concerns, thank them for their support, prove there’s a human behind the brand.

Tweeters Gonna Tweet

Moral of the story? The Internet is going to talk about you. If you’re a believer in “all publicity is good publicity,” more power to you. If you’d rather not have the whole of the Internet ravenously tearing you apart, keep in mind the unforgiving immediacy and unfiltered opinions that is social media when creating your next advertisement.

Side note: I would talk about the absolute explosion social media had over Lady GaGa too, but I think that’s been thoroughly covered. I’d rather not bother you when I’m sure you’ve been bombarded with gifs of her flying through the stadium like a gosh darn sparkling comet. I bow to the Queen of Pop. 


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