As America sits down to watch the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams square off in Super Bowl LIII, there’s a certain subset for whom the game is of ancillary concern. More than anything, the Super Bowl is a social event, one where part of the crowd is more interested in seven-layer dip, a glass of wine or two and the halftime show.
Oh yes, and the commercials. Ever since Apple’s 1984 big-budget ad introducing the Macintosh to a wide audience, mega-dollar commercials specially tailored for the event are as much a part of Super Bowl lore as the game itself is, to the consternation of this guy who just wants to watch football. But I digress.
Like everything else in the American cultural landscape, Super Bowl commercials have gotten politicized in the age of Trump. Heineken, Audi, 84 Lumber — all of them have presented commercials specifically designed to position the brand as an antidote to the Trump administration.
However, there are signs that’s changing — and one company is even swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction.
Jeep — that automotive symbol of all things good, decent and American — is featuring an advertisement in the run-up to the game with “The Star-Spangled Banner” being played against a variety of visuals.
(You know, the same song that can provoke outrage from the left when it’s suggested that players whose bank accounts are engorged by the economic opportunity America provides ought not use America’s national anthem as a platform for their own personal political preferences while they’re at their place of work.)
Here’s the ad, which features images representing the lyrics to the anthem:
The anthem itself is being performed by OneRepublic and the lyrics aren’t sung, but are illustrated by the scenes on display.
As Auto Evolution puts it:
“The first verse of the anthem is ‘Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light.’ That translated in the clip as follows: ‘Oh’ is the shape of a tire, ‘say’ is a woman pointing at her mouth, ‘can’ is a soda can, ‘you’ is a poster of Uncle Sam pointing a finger, ‘see’ is another woman looking up, ‘by the dawn’ is a morning jogger, ‘early’ is an alarm clock set at 4.00 AM, and ‘light’ is a light bulb coming on.”
Some of the visuals are a little trickier, like a taxi being hailed at the word “hailed.”
The Jeep appears for the first time with the word “gleaming,” and is seen a total of 13 times, representing a word in the anthem, Auto Evolution reported.
The ad was produced as part of Jeep’s “Big Game Commercial Blitz Series” dedicated to the Super Bowl, according to Auto Evolution, but it’s unclear whether it’s going to be taking up one of the commercial slots come game time. AdWeek reported last week that “the company is still mum on their official plans” for the Super Bowl.
However, if it does, it might be the most political ad we see during this year’s game — assuming, of course, you buy into the narrative that the national anthem is inherently political.
“Advertisers are hoping to provide some welcome distraction and entertainment as economic fears persist and the nation’s political climate remains sharply divided,” The Associated Press reported.
“As much as this year’s Super Bowl will be a battle on the field between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, it will be a battle between advertisers over who gets the buzz — and who gets forgotten.”
“Celebrities are a relatively safe bet to garner good will from Super Bowl viewers who aren’t looking to be lectured at. There has been a retreat from more overtly political ads that were seen during the 2017 Super Bowl from such companies as 84 Lumber and Airbnb.”
Aside from the AP’s weird belief that this is because “economic fears persist” (the same wire service one day later: “A robust job gain in January shows US economy’s durability”), the general sentiment seems to be accurate. Celebrities seem to be the big theme of the of the year, AP reports — Jeff Bridges, Steve Carrell and Sarah Michelle Gellar will all make appearances — as companies are “shying away from controversy.”
“It’s such a big investment. Advertisers really want to generate as much return as they can,” Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins told the AP.
“I think we’ll see a lot of humor and product-focused advertising. A lot of advertisers are nervous about taking on big themes.”
“The big theme is a return to light-hearted humor,” University of Virginia professor Kim Whitler told the AP. “There’s an acknowledgement the Super Bowl is about entertainment.”
And, perhaps, an acknowledgement that the national anthem isn’t toxic.
If this ad actually does air during the big game, we predict Jeep’s ad could steal the show, even in a year of multitudinous celebrities.