Super Bowl 2017: Home of the outraged

In Hero's Journey, Kia's spot for the Niro hybrid, Melissa McCarthy's valiant attempts to save the environment at the behest of someone on a loud speaker telling her what to do are foiled by the very things she wishes to help. She wants to save the environment, but the environment fights back. A whale sends her flying toward a giant ship with a Greenpeace-like banner on it. She desperately clings to a tree she is trying to save, even as it falls. She proudly plants a "save the ice caps," poster in the arctic, only to cause the ice cap to break. And a rhino she is also trying to save ends up picking her up in its tusk as she runs for her life. With each episode, a disembodied voice on a speaker instructs her to go somewhere else. The look on her face is increasingly unsure, but the voice tells her to do it and she does it, and fails each time despite her intentions. It's almost as if nature wants to be left alone and does not appreciate her intrusions. This is also an apt assessment of the more deliberately "disruptive," ads that Audi and 84 Lumber put out this Super Bowl and the audience who received it.
First let's put this into context, at least within America. It should come as no shock in the wake of the election that a segment of the population voiced a frustration that they were not being listened to. Over the past few years polls routinely showed among both Republicans and Democrats that jobs (or lack there of) healthcare, the economy and national security were the top issues, with climate change at the lowest priority. Any politician who didn't focus on these issues with any sort of substance would have been part of the problem, not the solution. (Which still makes it insane to me Bernie Sanders was not given a fair chance by his own party.)
Without turning this into a political think piece, my point is America is at a point in history where when it comes to issues, we're sitting on a powder keg ready to explode at a moment's notice with vociferous support or opposition. You'd have to be living under a rock to realize this. Which makes Audi and 84 Lumber's decision to wade into gender politics and immigration issues either an admirable move or a colossally myopic mistake. It's tempting to say it depends on what side of the fence you stand, as we will see, that is all too simplistic in these times.

First let's start with Audi's downer of a spot in which a father makes his daughter a victim before she's even hit puberty, asking a series of questions that begin with "what do I tell her?" My first reaction was "why the fuck don't you teach her instead of tell her." The spot ends with the line that "Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work." So Audi is committed to following the Equal Pay Act which was signed in 1963. Slow clap. I will leave discussions of the intricacies of the earnings gap to professionals. And never mind Audi was caught cheating on gas emissions tests along with Volkswagen. Let's just all believe what they have to say now.

Problem with a virtue signal is that the very people who want to buy it are also conditioned to fact check you.

Or call you out.

And then you have to spend the night answering questions like this.

The conversation has continued with people split between like and hate. Many showing support of Audi's spot, while just as many others voicing vitriol. Want to know a secret? Audi doesn't care what you think. They want the publicity. This spot had zero substance. It costs Audi nothing to make some pledge. What does that even mean? Except for the most rabid out there, very few people are going to check up a year from now to see if they've implemented their pledge at all. So why are you cheering?

Wanna know something else? Audi dealers also don't give a toss what you think. You could be a build-the-wall red hat wearin' Trump supporter as long as you buy the car. And despite questionable clickbait sites, they're not going to throw you out of their dealership. They want your money.

And then there's 84 Lumber.

The reaction to 84 Lumber's excellent Pittsburgh-made spot was absurdly hysterical. With people viewing it either as a pro-illegal immigration spot (some accusing them of hiring illegal laborers) while some celebrated it as being this message of inclusiveness from a brand no one outside of Pittsburgh really knows. Me, I thought the spot made immigration wrongly look like a mother daughter camping trip, but that's beside the point. 84 Lumber was a spot designed for the times, and achieved what it wanted-- a response. Any kind of response. And it came from a Trump supporter. That's right.

The CEO of 84 Lumber is a Republican who supports Trump, wants to restrict immigration and build the wall. It's true. 84 Lumber CEO Hardy Magerko told People magazine:

Hardy Magerko says she personally helped develop the commercial and its striking imagery, but her personal beliefs don’t play into the commercial.

“This came from the heart and I didn’t do it for personal gain,” she says. “It’s not about me or my beliefs or the wall, it’s about individuals… treating people with dignity and respect.”

She adds: “My intent was to show, through the mother and daughter, that through struggles we will do anything we possibly can to make (the world) a better place for our children. If I thought the wall was negative, I wouldn’t have had the wall.”

“There were many interpretations, but the message is in the eyes of the beholder,” adds Hardy Magerko, who took over Pittsburgh-based 84 Lumber from her father, now 94. “So, depending on what struggles and what you’re going through… it’s all in (the viewers) interpretation.”

So that leaves you in kind of a bind. If you are pro-immigration, do you support a company whose CEO stands against everything you do, but made a spot suggesting otherwise? How do you trust the company to do the thing you believe in when they don't believe it themselves?

At least Magerko was honest enough to admit her true intentions "During market research, we found that people 40 and younger don’t know about [the company], so I thought ‘Okay… let’s tie in what is going on in the world."

Mission accomplished?

As with Audi the conversation was evenly and passionately split, and it certainly got 84 Lumber's name out there. Whether or not it attracts people to their business, in light of the fact that the CEO supports our current President and thinks a wall is necessary remains to be seen.

And beyond instant conversation spikes on social media, it also remains to be seen if support will turn into a spike in sales, or whether the anger will result in boycotts. For more context, after Target's Transgender bathroom policy back in April of last year, 1.4 million people signed a pledge to boycott the store. The boycott must have been effective as it caused Target to spend twenty million dollars to add single toilet options to their stores. Their stock whose high was at almost 84 dollars pre-boycott is at sixty-three dollars and fifty-seven cents today. I realize there are other mitigating factors as to why this might be the case, but that is still a significant drop that has yet to recover for the publicity or ensuing conversation.

The question is how many brands will be a little less inclined to go down the cause marketing route, especially ones where that don't feel like a natural fit. Some brands might be taking a cue from Melissa McCarthy's character in the Kia Niro spot. It doesn't matter how well-meaning you are today. It doesn't matter if your intentions are noble or cynical. It doesn't even matter if you are right. If you decide the only way to get America talking is by wading anywhere near politics right now, don't be surprised if half the population responds with screaming.

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Dabitch's picture

Regarding that Audi ad, I'ma just gonna drop a quote in here from this post about Danske Bank's campaign in 2012

Here's the problem that some clients forget . We can't put lipstick on a pig , the consumer will still know it's a pig. If your company wants to run around saying that it is green, first act green. Make sure you don't buy 450 single-use only non biodegradable plastic bags for giveaways filled with trinkets branding how green you are, for example. (and that's a real world example). You have no women in your board of directors? Fix that before you use the image of a woman in a mans world as your branding image.