Super Bowl Ads Reflect What Divides Us: Religion, the Election and Bud Light

Incomprehensible MAGA-land predictions that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce would rig the Super Bowl and endorse Joe Biden for president to 100 million American viewers as part of a massive psy-op turned out to have been greatly exaggerated. Mostly, they just kissed a lot.

But that’s not to say our nation’s fractious politics didn’t break through during the broadcast. While most of the ads involved the usual self-effacing celebrities asserting their cultural relevance — and some of them were crowd-pleasers and even funny — a number of them touched on some of the most divisive issues of the day: religion, the presidential race and Bud Light.

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Going in, all eyes were on the last, the object of a polarizing 2023 boycott from conservative groups for having collaborated with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney on an Instagram campaign to promote March Madness. Sales slumped. Kid Rock strafed at Bud Light cases with his machine gun (and actually managed to hit a few cans). The brand lost its No. 1 status, and the company made moves to capitulate, despite demographics showing that younger drinkers embrace diversity and inclusion.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, A-B was in an ad pickle. The result was a frenetic Bud Light spot with a reheated, back-to-’90s quality. It wasn’t all that interesting, but it was fascinating in what it subliminally revealed: A bizarre genie granting Bud-Light-swilling shlubs their brotastic wishes: to be friends with Peyton Manning; to have a bigger bicep; to enter the UFC ring beside its (wife-slapping) CEO and Dana White; and — most tellingly — to be invisible. Could that perhaps reflect Bud Light’s own desire to hide out from the culture wars?

Another hint that the spot, called “Easy Night Out,” was old-school: Guest star Post Malone called for a raging dinosaur to show up at the ‘90s movie-style house party at the end of the spot. But really, who were the dinosaurs here?

A second A-B spot, promoting Budweiser, harked back to supposedly simpler times as well — not the 1990s but the 1890s. A-B brought back the Clydesdales in all of their heart-stirring, clip-clopping glory. People love these horses, and just seeing their expressive equine faces makes viewers cry. Titled “Old-school Delivery,” to make it clearer, it tells the story of a town losing power in a snowstorm. The horses saved the delivery day by pulling a 19th century beer wagon townward. Currier, meet Ives.

It seems the apology was well received by MAGA Land. After the Bud Light ad appeared online last week — and shortly before he was scheduled to meet with an Anheuser-Busch lobbyist — Donald Trump suggested on Truth Social that Bud Light was “not a Woke company” and deserved a “second chance.” CNBC reports that Dana White himself may have been key to Trump’s conversion.

Speaking of conversion: Several faiths battled for viewers’ souls last night. As the only place to reach such a massive audience live, several ideologies — including Catholicism, with pitchman Mark Wahlberg, and Scientology — put their $7 million for 30 seconds on the line. But Jesus swept. Two surprising “He Gets Us” commercials gave Him a modern edge. Preaching “love, not hate,” one spot, foot-based rather than fear-based, showed Jesus washing the feet of diverse disciples in contemporary settings, including outside a family planning center. Some of the visuals had an alien quality, as if they were produced by AI. A second spot asked viewers to treat all people as their neighbors.

The “He Gets Us” campaign was started by Servant Foundation in 2022 — with major donations from Hobby Lobby and other conservative institutions. This year, it was the work of the newly formed nonprofit group Come Near.

The loving-our-neighbors message, it turns out, is at considerable odds with “some of the campaign’s major donors, and its holding company, who have ties to conservative political aims and far-right ideologies,” according to CNN. That would include anti-abortion and anti-LGBQT+ groups.

Still, the most dumbfounding and contradictory stealth entry of the night came in the form of a political ad for independent presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy Jr. 

It took an actual animated ad from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, which featured a song that kept “Kennedy” on a loop, and merely pasted Bobby’s head over that of his martyred uncle.

This was discombobulating for many reasons, including the outright steal and lapse of taste. And judgment. Most of all, Bobby’s politics conflict with JFK’s and his fringe views have caused his cousins to disavow him.

Then it turned into a social media war.

Almost immediately, Bobby Shriver, son of JFK’s sister, Eunice Shriver, posted, ”My cousin’s Super Bowl ad used our uncle’s faces — and my Mother’s. She would be appalled by his deadly health care views. Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA.”

He apologized to family members “if I have caused pain” — and said it was put together by a political action committee, the American Values Super PAC, that is unaffiliated with his campaign — but as of this writing he still has it pinned at the top of his X page, and his press secretary publicly thanked American Values.

You can inadvertently learn a lot about American politics and culture by watching the spots on the Super Bowl. But “Kennedy family feud” was not on my game card. Perhaps advertisers should stick to superheroes, explosions and allowing aging celebrities to shine.

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