In Branding & Identity, Marketing & Advertising, Marketing Strategy

Who says that Super Bowl commercials aren’t an influential and powerful piece of our cultural storytelling? Most of us watched Sunday’s historic game as The Philadelphia Eagles out played The Patriots, Justin Timberlake played to mixed reviews, and the likes of Hyundai, Budweiser, and Stella Artois paid $5 million dollars a pop to play their cause-related commercials throughout an abundance of commercial breaks.

The general consensus so far indicates that Super Bowl LII ads were somewhat notable for their willingness to make commentary on current cultural social and political issues and, in particular, cultural diversity and America’s identity as a nation. Is this good for the causes? and is it good for these brands?!

The spectacle of companies spending so much on these commercials has become a game in itself called the Adbowl. With huge financial stakes, advertisers go all out, with celebrities, pulling stunts and pushing culture norms, and recently embracing charitable causes (as discussed in our last blog post here) to grab viewers’ attention. Why are they doing this? because according to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR study, research reveals that consumers now factor a company’s core beliefs heavily into their purchasing decisions. 87% said they’d purchase a product because that company advocated for an issue they cared about. As to the question of whether connecting brands and causes is a good thing consumers felt companies broadly had a role to play in social justice concerns including racial equality (87%) and women’s rights (84%).

Yet to successfully grab our attention Super Bowl TV commercials need an undeniable ‘Wow!’ factor, or we’ll be disappointed or, even worse, disinterested. Adding wow to causes is delicate terrain – just ask Dodge Ram Trucks who spent 5 MM $ to leverage an MLK speech for a commercial and got blown up in an angry Twitter storm making them the big losers of the day.

For many viewers of the Super Bowl, research has shown that the vast majority of audiences (upward of 75%) actually look forward to who will be crowned Super Bowl ad of the year. So, let’s see who the winners are in this year’s cause-related rankings.

19.5M views – Budweiser – ‘Stand By You’ – Budweiser pulled at the heartstrings with their message about providing water to places across the United States that were impacted by natural disasters. According to Budweiser, their Cartersville, GA brewery has provided more than 79 million cans of water for relief efforts since 1988, including two million last year.

19.4M Views – Groupon – “Who Wouldn’t”. After spending years in the shadows, the coupon company is stepping back into the spotlight with an ad featuring rising star Tiffany Haddish and a simple message about helping local businesses.


13.4M Views – T-Mobile – #LittleOnes. Kerry Washington narrates over babies of different races, simply calling them all equal. However, the ad does end with what seems to be a call to action. “Change Starts Now” the copy reads, followed by “Are You With Us? While it has little to do with T-Mobile, it is certain to get people’s attention in this political climate.

2.4M Views – Hyundai – Hope Detector. Hyundai decided not to feature any of their cars in Sunday’s Super Bowl ad. Instead, the company put their efforts to fund childhood cancer research and how buying a Hyundai can make an impact. The ad featured real Hyundai owners and real cancer survivors meeting each other, leading to emotional results.

111.4K Views – Verizon – Answering The Call. Verizon was among the brands that took a somber route. Its ad showed images of rescue situations and carried the voices of people thanking emergency workers, ending with the words: “They answer the call. Our job is to make sure they can get it.”

706.7K Views – Coca-Cola – The Wonder of Us. Coca-Cola highlights the diversity of its products and the diversity of its consumers in this 60-second ad. The message: there’s a Coke for every unique individual out there.

538.4K Views – Stella Artois – ‘Taps’. Stella partners with and Matt Damon to highlight if 1% of Super Bowl viewers buy the advertised chalice, Stella Artois and could feed 1,000,000 people for five years

178.7 Views Toyota – One Team. Toyota went for a message of inclusiveness showing people of all faiths coming together to root on their team.

While this year’s Super Bowl ads incrementally demonstrated the potential of issue inclusive advertising there is a lot more that can be done in the rest of the ads to represent all of the U.S.A. We believe that in your run of mill comedy ads, which predominate during sports programming, there is an under-realized potential of representing the full range of human diversity – including disability, cultural and racial diversity, sexual orientation and gender identity

The events over the past year have ignited a groundswell of activism on very divisive topics and Americans are questioning future progress. I look forward to helping brands drive change on issues they hold close to them and I value your thoughts on how successfully this year’s cause connected ads impacted your thoughts about the brands, the non-profits, and their causes.

David Spitzer is CEO of Upper Diamond, a marketing and communications production company. If you want to engage in a conversation around a campaign or strategize your next cause-marketing campaign, we’re willing to help you make a principled stand, launch a new product or share a moment. Find out more about us at
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