In Super Bowl, groups see political football

In Super Bowl, groups see political football
© Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch

Companies have for years kept consumers on the couch for commercial breaks during the Super Bowl, and now, with a captive audience, the big game has become more than a place to push products.
 
For those with the resources, Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX will offer an unparalleled venue to attract public attention on a host of nationally debated issues, including cyber-bullying and domestic violence.

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Recent years have seen a growing focus on politics and issues of national concern during breaks in the game.  In 2010, for instance, former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow starred in a pro-life commercial with his mother.

In 2013, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns aired an ad pushing for gun control and last year Coca-Cola’s ad in which “America the Beautiful” was sung in multiple languages incited controversy over whether the company was pushing for immigration reform.

Companies have recognized that they can bring more attention to issues with a 30-second spot than advocates could with any number of bills or congressional hearings.

And, not coincidentally, they can polish up their public image at the same time.

 “It’s not about running an ad and counting the sales at the 7-Eleven counter,” said Paul Venables, founder and executive creative director of Venables Bell & Partners, a San Francisco-based advertising agency, which has created Audi’s Super Bowl ad every year since 2008.
 
“It’s about where your brand stands with peoples’ emotions and how they feel connected to it.”
 
Taking up a cause, he said, has become a way for companies to ensure they’re part of the water cooler conversation at the office the next day.

This year, Coca-Cola is using its airtime to fight cyber bullying.
 
One of four teasers the company released, shows people typing things like “I hate u” and “you’re a total loser” on the Internet before asking the question, “How much more hate can people take?” Each teaser closes with the hashtag #MakeitHappy.
 
It’s a tactic, Venables said to make the public associate the company with something good.
 
“Honestly, Coca-Cola would love to divert attention away from the fact that they are fattening up kids in America with sugar water,” he said. “If they can create a nice dialogue on cyber bullying, that’s wonderful.”

Coca-Cola spokeswoman Sarah Cannon said the campaign is meant to illustrate “the importance of spreading positivity and happiness into the real world and beyond.”

“Our message is simple: the Internet is what we make it and Coca-Cola wants to inspire America to help make it more inclusive and positive,” she said.

According to Nielsen, 108.7 million viewers will tune into Sunday’s big game. It’s an expansive reach that comes with an expensive price.
 
The average cost of a 30-second ad this year is $4.5 million. A 60-second ad runs $9 million and production of the ad alone, Venables said, can cost anywhere from $1.5 to $3 million.

McDonald’s, another company willing to foot the hefty bill this year, is reportedly working to dispel myths about the safety and nutritional value of its food. The fast food chain is rumored to be pushing out a new “transparency” campaign with its Super Bowl ad.
 
Last year a photo of pink goop circulated around the Internet, along with claims that it was an ingredient in McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
 
The company has posted a video on its site that shows how the nuggets are made and explains what ingredients go into them.
 
“Let's set the record straight: this image in connection with McDonald's is a myth,” says a statement on the website under the image of the pink goop. “In fact, we don't know where it came from, but it's not our food.”

The National Football League is airing its own commercial following a year of damaging news stories, including child abuse allegations against Minnesota Vikings  running back Adrian Peterson and the emergence of video showing Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancé, now wife, during a fight in an elevator.
 
The spot pans through rooms in disarray, while a woman dials 911. She pretends to order a pizza, so her attacker won’t know she’s calling police.
 
“When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen,” a voice says at the end of the NFL’s commercial.
 
For some companies, however, the exposure can backfire.
 
GoDadddy pulled its ad from the Super Bowl lineup this week after an early release created uproar on social media.

The company is being blasted for promoting puppy mills, or dog breeding operations that are often linked to animal abuse and cruelty. The ad aims to poke fun at Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdale campaign, which this year depicts the horses protecting a puppy in distress.

GoDaddy’s version involved a lost puppy named Buddy on his journey home. When he finally makes it, his owner says, “I’m so glad you made it home because I just sold you on this website I built with GoDaddy.”
 
"We have pulled our intended Super Bowl commercial and are working on what we will air in the slot,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Driscoll said.

In the art of advertising during the Super Bowl, Venables said, there are some hard and fast rules to follow.
 
“You don’t want to be too political or too heavy,” he said. “It is a festival. People are sitting down with a beer in one hand and bean dip in the other.”
 
But above all, “Don’t mess with puppies.”
 
“If you do, you’re going to get your head handed to you,” he said.