Advertising on the big game during the great divide

Every year the Super Bowl inherently divides the nation. By teams. By conferences. By favorite or underdog. But this year I think we can all agree that our country will be divided like never before. By the Elites vs. the Working Class, Haters vs. Lovers, Liberals vs. Conservatives, Skeptics vs. Believers, Cities vs. Rural, Fake News vs. Real.

Ari Halper is FCB New York's chief creative officer

As a marketer, you have to be wondering how such a dynamic will bode for your massive media dollars that were hoping to capture the attention of over 100 million households in one foul, 30-second-five-million-dollar swoop. But did your audience just get chopped in half? Because if the election taught us anything, it’s pretty crystal that what appeals to one half of the nation obviously doesn’t appeal to the other half.

So how do you advertise to everyone? Is it even possible? Or do you just bite the bullet, settle for one side and go full tilt, praying you chose wisely? It’s a scarier proposition than being a celebrity over 50 years of age in 2016.

Call me naïve, not to mention a tad self-contradictory, but I also think the Super Bowl is a great unifier, regardless of how divisive last year proved to be. Because whether you’re a city-elite-liberal from Atlanta or a rural-working-class-conservative from Toccoa, you are both in it together, rooting your heart out for the Falcons. And therein lies the beauty of fandom: It’s inherently all-inclusive. And this is something that the NFL has figured out probably better than any other brand on Earth. Humans yearn for belonging to something bigger than themselves, and this is precisely what being a fan entails. This explains why the NFL refused to air an 84 Lumber commercial on the Super Bowl featuring the infamous “wall.” They didn’t do it because the NFL is anti-wall or pro-Trump, but rather because they are anti-controversy, because controversy pulls people apart and that goes against everything the NFL stands for. Proving once again that love does conquer hate, at least when it comes to football.

The other thing that unites us, like fandom, are simple human truths. They make us laugh at ourselves, because when no one is watching, we all tend to do the same stupid shit. And great brands understand this. They understand that insight transcends political ideology and current affairs, defying borders and trends and demographics. So as much as we like to think we are different, we are disturbingly predictable and the same. Hell, why do you think an animal has been in the top five Super Bowl spots for the last 20 years? Because we all love them. And we all see ourselves in them. They are pure. Representing sentient beings at our best. After all, no one looks at a dog and thinks about race, political or sexual orientation, socioeconomic class or religion. They don’t have any of those things to get in the way of the story, and as a result viewers only focus on the story – that other thing we all seem to love. Now it’s just up to the commercials to deliver simple human truths and great storytelling. In other words, what else is new?

That’s why if you look back through Super Bowl history, the most successful ads of all time seem to follow a similar formula. From the Mean Joe Green Coca Cola ad to the Career Builder Monkeys, They are rarely polarizing, very insightful and tell wonderfully universal stories, usually with animals or kids (to my earlier point).

The nation is still tragically divided, however, but perhaps we can all learn something from the Super Bowl this year, because in a couple of weeks we will literally invite people into our homes from opposing teams, and yet we will do it with open arms. Sharing the guac and chips, laughing and crying at the same commercials. Regardless of what side they are on. How wonderful would it be if we could do the same after the parties are over?

Ari Halper is chief creative officer of FCB New York

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