Selling unity? Our obsession with tear-jerking ads in a Trump Era
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If you’re like me, you probably tuned into the Super Bowl not just to catch the game, but to watch the ads.  I come by this interest honestly. My Dad was an ad man. He worked at JWT (the abbreviation of an ad company) for several years before moving to the Ministry of Education. It was his passion. We used to sit up late at night and watch commercials for hours, and dissect them. The best place to do just that is during the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is considered television’s biggest advertising stage  - with good reason. According to the New York Times, it cost 5 million dollars for a 30 second advertisement.

The ads that we were captivated by and that we were talking about the next day at the proverbial water cooler (well, actually, coffee machine – and it makes pretty good coffee – we welcome you to come down and have a cup!) were commercials that tug at our heartstrings. You know the ones – they herald love, acceptance, diversity, unity, belonging across difference. And most of all, they were definitively and defiantly anti-Trump. But be honest – while you were weeping, dabbing your salty tears with a handkerchief, didn’t you feel just the SLIGHTEST bit manipulated? I know I did. And we wanted to find out why.

We debated three ads on Tuesday’s show. We were lucky enough to get Bob Samnes to agree to speak with us – he had done some research on the commercials, and it showed in our conversation together. He is an ad man at Elevator Strategy. Also joining me were two UBC professors – David Hardisty at UBC’s Sauder Business School, and a political science professor, Dr. Bruce Baum. And debate we did.  We asked some hard questions. How does social awareness become something that can be attached to a product and sold? What happens with a brand when it succeeds in a reductive strategy of diluting powerful social ideologies?

Some saw these ads as a way of snubbing Trump. We talked about three ads: the coke commercial; the airbnb commercial and the aeromexico commercial. If you haven’t seen them, they are easily accessible online – or you can tune in to our show, where we played them in their entirety.

Coca-Cola went for an opaque but opulent salvo, selling not just tolerance, but acceptance, resurrecting its advert from the 2014 Super Bowl that shows a multilingual rendition of America The Beautiful. In an promotional statement, Coke said that the commercial was meant to “promot[e] optimism, inclusion and celebrate….humanity.” However, a lot of people did not like the ad and the hashtag #boycottcoke took off almost immediately. It seems like diversity sells – but only among a specific demographic (hello, Cheerios?).

I hope you’ll go and taken a listen to the programme – it was one of our most successful shows, and I think we touched a nerve by asking how neoliberal multiculturalism takes on complex forms in these commercials, shrouding ongoing unequal global racial formations. As I said at our coffee machine on Monday, as we were putting this show together: let’s not forget: these companies are not here just to pull on our heartstrings – they’re here to make money. Thanks for listening.

Ps: if you really want to see a manipulative ad, watch this one from 84 Lumber. I kept wondering how the actors in the piece felt. Take a look, and keep this in mind: the owner has gone on record saying she is a Trump supporter. It’s already been watched 10 million times. 


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