Anheuser-Busch InBev NV didn’t intend to wade into politically controversial waters with its Super Bowl ad for Budweiser. But that’s how events unfolded.
The world’s largest brewer is set to air a 60-second TV spot about its co-founder, Adolphus Busch, and his journey from Germany to St. Louis in 1857.
The ad, which was released publicly Tuesday, shows that Bud stands “for those people that have a dream and work very hard until they make the dream come true,” said Marcel Marcondes, vice president of U.S. marketing at Anheuser-Busch.
The company said the spot isn’t intended to make a political statement, but it will air at a time of intense controversy over immigration, inflamed by President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations because of concerns about terrorists entering the U.S.
It is always a risk for companies to air Super Bowl ads that touch on sensitive social issues. But every now and then there are national moments that are particularly perilous for brands—the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the height of the 2008 great recession, for example.
This year’s hyperpolarized environment in U.S. politics is no exception. The temptation for brands to weigh in on these situations can be high. So are the chances that they inadvertently spark a backlash.
“Touching issues such as immigration, climate change or border control in ads would be like touching the third rail,” said Allen Adamson, who founded BrandSimple Consulting.
The Trump administration says its Travel restrictions aren’t a religious test, noting that many Muslim countries aren’t affected. Critics view it as targeting Islam, and the order has been met with legal challenges, protests and blowback from some in corporate America.
Some brand experts said the Budweiser ad could be risky. “It could potentially alienate part of their audience,” said Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at branding firm Landor.
Mr. Marcondes said the company won’t be “apologetic” for the spot. “The story is the truth, it’s not fiction,” he said. “This is what Budweiser stands for and we are really proud of it.”
The Bud ad already is getting plenty of attention on social media. “Man. I can’t WAIT to see what Trump tweets at Budweiser after this,” read one tweet by user @GregHoplamazian.
Building-material retailer 84 Lumber said it had an ad rejected by Fox, this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster, which is getting as much as $5 million for 30-seconds of ad time. It featured a border wall and Hispanic actors, the company’s ad agency said.
Some brands are being cautious. GoDaddy Inc., which sells web addresses and services for small businesses, is making a TV commercial for the big game that includes iconic internet memes and considered, but decided against, including a nod to tweets from Mr. Trump’s Twitter account.
“We didn’t want to add to what is an already politically-charged, divisive climate,” said Barb Rechterman, GoDaddy’s chief marketing officer, in a statement. GoDaddy has history of creating controversial ads to help it generate publicity. Its decision shows how carefully marketers are maneuvering this year.
WeatherTech, which makes car floor mats and other auto accessories, will use its Super Bowl TV spot to tout that its products are made in the U.S. Mr. Trump has promised to boost domestic manufacturing and job creation, and some of his tactics—calling out specific companies that have plans to build facilities overseas and threatening to install import tariffs—have sparked controversy.
“It is the rage lately to talk about American jobs, but we have always been doing that, even before it was fashionable,” said WeatherTech chief executive David MacNeil, noting that the company has used a “Made-In-America” theme in its big-game ads for the past few years.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has a history of airing Super Bowl ads that hint at social issues or tap patriotic themes, but it hasn’t disclosed if or what it will air this year. Ad ideas recently were being generated for the auto maker, which included a unifying message and involved “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen’s book, according to people familiar with the matter. That ad idea isn’t expected to appear during the Super Bowl, according to the people.
Brands nodding to politics or the economy often pull it off by being neutral and using humor. Coca-Cola, for example, aired a Super Bowl ad in 2008 that featured Democratic operative James Carville and former Republican senator Bill Frist arguing, but eventually bonding over a Coke.
In 2009, Cash4Gold, a company that bought gold jewelry from consumers, nodded to the financial turmoil that had engulfed the country with a funny ad that showed actor Ed McMahon and rapper MC Hammer, two celebrities who made headlines for their financial woes, using the service.
Anheuser-Busch aired a big-game spot in 2002 that showed its iconic Budweiser Clydesdales traveling to New York City to bow their heads in front of the skyline of lower Manhattan, as a sign of respect after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
At the time, the brewer had some reservations about airing the ad, said Bob Lachky, a former creative chief for Anheuser-Busch. “We didn’t want it to look like we were pandering.”
While the ad largely was celebrated, some people criticized it. “We knew we were taking a risk but the message was so needed and we knew that we would be forgiven by the small minority that would likely not approve,” Mr. Lachky said.
—Joshua Jamerson contributed to this article.
Write to Suzanne Vranica at [email protected]
Source : WSJ