This article originally appeared in Campaign.
Super Bowl Sunday may be one of the biggest days in the American sporting calendar, but it’s also a kind of brand-sponsored short film festival.
Even those who are not interested in American football, the barrage of top-line advertising it produces ensures you’ll inevitably be taking part in the fun – even if it’s just through a Monday morning round-up.
Take this year’s high-profile entries. For Super Bowl 51, we saw the usual cavalcade of celebrity cameos, uplifting sentiment and flagrant exercises in nostalgia. But the political climate in the United States, and indeed the world at large, has clearly had an effect on the tenor of spots produced this year. Nowhere is this clearer than in Budweiser’s effort ‘Born The Hard Way’.
Budweiser’s Super Bowl pedigree speaks for itself. Having routinely dominated the coveted most-shared spot over the last few years, the beer brand has established its own house-style, usually recognised by the presence of a) puppies b) stallions and c) unbridled patriotism. While these adverts have proven wildly popular, this year’s campaign chose to focus its sights on an issue both searingly current and central to the American experience: immigration.
‘Born The Hard Way’ tells the immigrant story of Adolphus Busch, co-founder of Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser Busch. The ad tracks the troubles and hardships which Busch suffered in emigrating from Germany to the United States towards the end of the 19th Century, crossing raging seas and facing antagonism from all sides. Rather tellingly, the ad begins with Busch confronted by a stranger at a bar who says, “You don’t look like you’re from around here”.
You don’t need to follow the news too closely to glean the ad’s significance. Released only weeks after the Trump administration’s implementation of restrictions on immigration to the United States, ‘Born The Hard Way’ is a clear message about Budweiser’s reaction to the policy.
Obviously, this stance was a surprise for some viewers, but the brand were not alone on this front. Another Super Bowl campaign to openly support immigration was 84 Lumber’s ‘The Entire Journey’, a beautiful spot which follows the journey a mother and daughter take from Mexico to the United States. The latter spot proved so controversial that Fox refused to air it in its entirety.
Of course, there’s more to ‘Born The Hard Way’ than political sabre-rattling. Like every Budweiser campaign, it’s a stunning piece of filmmaking which could just as easily be a trailer for a theatrical biopic (in fact, Burberry followed a similar pattern for last year’s ‘Tale of Thomas Burberry’).
But what’s interesting to note is that, while the Super Bowl’s ad line-up will always offer pleasant diversions, this year’s crop of ads shows that division between ad campaign, entertainment and political statement is dwindling by the day.
With a new political regime in the States determined to see through some of its campaign pledges, it will be intriguing to see how brands continue to respond.