LONDON — The Super Bowl is a huge moment in time in the marketing calendar and while it’s adland’s moment in the sun, as PRs, we’d be remiss not to pay attention and speculate about its reach into our discipline. In fact, it’s like ‘our’ version of the annual Christmas ad reveal, so every year @AECLondon, we embrace American football, grab the chips and dips and sit together to talk about the highlights, so here’s our view, grouped by theme and trend.

With 2017 being the year that it is, the overarching theme for the Super Bowl — with some of the most epic production and spend to bring it to life — is POLITICS. This begs so many questions, which could give rise to a whole other blog post, and we’re asking:

  • Politics may be more divisive than ever, but it’s now an omnipresent dialogue. Is it acceptable now to talk about politics…at work, on Facebook, at the Super Bowl? When will we get fed up, if ever?
  • Is it the role of a brand to comment?
  • Is it even authentic for brands to act like they care? Are they stepping in to save us when we’ve lost faith in everyone else or is their money at the root of their motivation and so therefore also suspect in the consumer’s mind?

Ponder that as you take a look at the ads that speak directly to this theme:

  • 84 Lumber, a building materials company, breaks our hearts with the most overt reference to The Wall and the promise that America holds.
  • In Born the Hard Way, Budweiser risked backlash with its immigrant founding story, as did Coke with its “It’s Beautiful” spot.
  • Airbnb comes at us with #WeAccept. See the attached spot and article to read how this is a through-the-line campaign with CSR and social attached, but also a refreshingly honest way to confront discrimination baked into their own model.
  • And Audi puts the pay gap under the golden lit set in Daughter. That’s right Audi. You go.

In the wake of Brexit, we saw some Christmas ads embrace diversity in England — note the multicultural cast of characters in the Sainsbury’s ad, but it has not yet been as overt as the above examples. No matter what you think, it seems more brands are playing the role of provocateur, so you may find your agency pushing your boundaries. It may be uncomfortable, but it may also be time to listen.

Another theme, in a fragmented America, is the idea of COMING HOME and all the comfort that brings, with a reminder that it’s a safe-haven (ideally) where love lives. Check out how Google portrays warm homes embracing all sorts of diversity in Home, By Google. Or Michelin bringing people home safely to events both mundane and memory-making in I Need You. What we like here is the subtlety of the branding. It’s imperceptibly perceptible. Is that a thing?

Celebs are not new to Super Bowl ads, but on the heels of losing so many ICONS in 2016, it’s worth pointing out that the likes of Peter Fonda (for Mercedes Benz), John Malkovich (for SquareSpace) and Arnie (Mobile Strike) get some recognition for their classic roles. On that star-studded note, Honda put forth a very sweet ad based on your yearbook-self giving advice to your older self as it pursues dreams (as the Honda brand promises always to do). These cameos are impressive and…MISSY ELLIOT!!!! Tell ‘em M-I-crooked-letter-crooked letter-Y!

And what about Being John Malkovich? Well, in a nonsensical year where a lot of us are asking WHAT THE?, he makes the question perfectly clear in the spot for SquareSpace.

On an even more nonsensical note, Bai uses discordance to sell a drink that manages to taste great and be good for you (and here we thought that was wine!). After Horse Whisperer, they give us Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake swapping roles. Finally, we really liked the spot about the Secret Society behind Avocados from Mexico (a Ketchum client), but we always enjoy a conspiracy theory here in the Big Smoke.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and are taking an informal poll here at Bankside, so Tweet us with any feedback @AECLondon.