Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen on Sunday night at the Super Bowl.
Unlike his recent predecessors, Trump decided against doing a halftime interview with the host network (NBC in this case). He didn’t tweet during the game. And, with the exception of one local TV commercial in Washington that featured a Trump impersonator – yes, really – the President wasn’t mentioned during the duration of the five-hour telecast.
But, while Trump was never seen or heard from, a number of the TV ads during the broadcast seemed to be an answer or rebuttal to the vision of America offered up by the President.
From the visuals – featuring interracial couples, gay couples, a woman in a hijab, etc. – to the language of inclusion in the actual ad copy, the commercials seemed aimed at suggesting that America’s strength comes from its diversity.
Four ads in particular stood out to me: Kraft, T-Mobile, Coke and Toyota. Let’s run through each one.
The ad features pictures and videos sent in by people around the country celebrating the big game. Interracial couples are shown. Gay couples. White families. Black families.
“You showed us thousands of way to family,” says the ad’s narrator. “There is no one right way to family. Family how you family.”
The camera slowly pans across a series of babies – boys and girls of all sorts of races and nationalities while a female narrator says:
“You come with open minds and the instincts that we are equal. Some people may see your differences and be threatened by them. But you are unstoppable … You’ll love who you want. You’ll demand fair and equal pay. You will be heard, not dismissed. Change starts now.”
The 60-second ad is a pastiche of images of people – old, young, black, white, etc. – enjoying the various iterations of Coke products. The narrator:
“There’s a Coke for he and she and her and me and them. There’s a different Coke for all of us … We all have different looks and loves and likes and dislikes too. But there’s a Coke for we and us and there’s a Coke for you.”
This is the one humorous spot of the quartet – playing out along the lines of that old joke: “A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar.” In the ad, it’s four religious leaders – of different religions – going to a football game together.
The unmistakeable sense you are left with in watching any one of these ads is that America is a place of tremendous difference – and that difference (and a willingness to embrace it) is what make us great.
We aren’t Trump’s America, the ads nearly shouted. We are the opposite of that. Or, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton on the 2016 campaign trail: We don’t need to make America great again. America is already great.
Why does it matter? Because Super Bowl ads – which cost upwards of $5 million each this year – are very, very carefully calibrated by agencies to appeal to the most people possible. All four of the ads cited above are branding ads; they aren’t about the product they are selling, they are about leaving viewers with a broad perception of what the brand is and what it stands for. There are no phones in the T-Mobile ad. And there’s no macaroni and cheese in the Kraft ad. You get the idea.
The calculation was clearly made by several different ad agencies – and the corporations who hired them – that using their 30 seconds or one minute to provide a check on the vision of the country pushed by Trump was the way to go. That there are enough consumers in the country who flatly reject the way in which Trump sees and talks about the country to make it financially worth the companies’ time to hang an ad on that sentiment.
This is not to say that every ad – or every ad agency – went with this sort of contra-Trump messaging. There was still a decent chunk of more standard-issue Super Bowl content: Danny Devito dressed like an M&M, the “Stranger Things” guy for Tide, Peter Dinklage voicing a Busta Rhymes rap for Doritos.
But the ads that stood out most to me were the ones that quiet clearly aimed to be political in their messaging and images – even if no one came out and said “Donald Trump has the wrong idea about America.”
That’s no accident. Trump has made absolutely everything political – even (and maybe especially) Super Bowl ads.