Bad news for anyone who was still hoping that 2017 would be less traumatic than 2016: Some of Donald Trump’s closest friends just won the Super Bowl. At first, it was all going as planned for Falcons fans. The Atlanta team was up 21-3 at halftime. More importantly, Lady Gaga caught the ball. (And danced. And flew. And played the keytar. And released all the drones.)
Then things quickly took a turn for Tom Brady. We couldn’t help but notice how the Super Bowl began to resemble a certain fateful night in November. As the touchdowns rolled in, they were accompanied by that special sinking feeling in our stomachs—the sneaking suspicion that somewhere out there, the “alt-right” was having a really good time. While the Patriots ultimately triumphed, the Super Bowl was still riddled with anti-Trump sentiment. And shockingly, the biggest middle fingers didn’t come from the liberal headliner, but rather from a handful of subversive ads.
Some might argue that, in a capitalist society, there’s nothing radical about consumerism masquerading as political critique. Those people probably won’t get invited back to next year’s Super Bowl parties. Plus, it’s fun to imagine President Trump slowly realizing that a good deal of the content he willingly consumed all night was actually shade. If Melania had to spend the evening at Trump International Golf Club feigning interest in football/her husband, at least she was able to watch him get totally owned by a hair-product company.
Airbnb and Coca-Cola took the subtlest routes, calling out our 45th president by celebrating all of the diversity and humanity that America (ideally) has to offer. In their spot “We Accept,” the home-sharing company shares close-up shots of a rainbow of renters, representing a multitude of races, ages, and genders. The somber portraits are accompanied by a very un-Trumpian message of acceptance and unity: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong.”
On Sunday, Airbnb posted a corresponding statement on their website, hashtagged “#weaccept.” In it, it pledged $4 million to the International Rescue Committee, which, in a depressing turn of events, can now be construed as a clap back to our president. They also promised to “provide short-term housing over the next five years for 100,000 people in need. We’ll start with refugees, disaster survivors, and relief workers, though we want to accommodate many more types of displaced people over time.” While we all admire Airbnb’s longstanding commitment to providing shelter for squad members and Kardashians, it’s nice to see them take a more holistic approach to giving back.
Coca-Cola is famous for producing Oscar-worthy advertisements that make you really thirsty. But this year, they turned their awesome powers of persuasion to a more political cause with “It’s Beautiful.” With “America the Beautiful” playing in the background, this commercial—which originally aired in 2014—showcases America at its most highly caffeinated and diverse. As the lyrics dip into different languages, imbibers of all different colors and creeds flash across the screen, laughing, joking, and—most importantly—clutching their Cokes. The tag reads “Together is Beautiful” as the last notes linger, because Coca-Cola is staffed by manipulative geniuses that get off on making you cry during their commercials.
Of course, most of these “wahoo diversity” messages were launching subtle critiques at Trump’s recent executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. But no ad leaned harder into the pro-immigrant programming than Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way.” In this cinematic paean to beer and 19th-century immigration, German co-founder Adolphus Busch endures tough conditions and xenophobic rhetoric on his journey toward achieving the American dream of brewing for a living. While the company claimed that the commercial wasn’t meant as a political statement, anti-immigrant critics responded to the controversial spot with a cry to #BoycottBudweiser.
84 Lumber’s Sunday night ad similarly made waves even before it aired. The Pennsylvanian building-materials supplier wanted to make a strong statement with its first ever Super Bowl commercial. That statement was too strong for Fox, which nixed the original ad in favor of a watered-down edit. According to 84 Lumber, the OG spot, which featured a Mexican family attempting to cross into America only to come up against a border wall, was deemed “too controversial.” The spot that made it to air stars the same mother-daughter duo, sans expensive monstrosity, and urges viewers to watch the rest of their story online. 84 Lumber posted the entire ad on their website, which subsequently crashed from a massive surge in traffic. The tagline? “The will to succeed is always welcome here.”
“Ignoring the border wall and the conversation around immigration that’s taking place in the media and at every kitchen table in America just didn’t seem right,” Rob Schapiro, the chief client officer at Brunner, 84 Lumber’s ad agency, told The Washington Post. “If everyone else is trying to avoid controversy, isn’t that the time when brands should take a stand for what they believe in?”
Audi took the political conversation in a different direction, addressing the brand of misogyny that came to categorize Trump’s presidential campaign. In their spot “Daughter,” a young girl faces off against ruthless boy competitors in a cart race, as her father’s voiceover waxes philosophical about gender inequality. “Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?” he wonders. As she triumphantly zooms across the finish line, he concludes that, “Maybe I’ll be able to tell her something different.” The commercial closes on Audi’s promise that they are “committed to equal pay for equal work.” While the ad has already gotten over 6.2 million views on YouTube, critics have questioned the audacity of such a feminist ad, since women only comprise 12 percent of Audi’s senior management workforce, according to Ad Age. Still, Audi’s spot employed a female director and created a hilarious YouTube forum for insecure men to rage about “the debunked wage-gap myth,” so that’s good enough for me.
Surprisingly enough, the night’s most entertaining and pointed anti-Trump ad came courtesy of It’s A 10, a relatively unknown hair product company. But what It’s A 10 lacked in Coca-Cola’s advertising budget, it more than made up for in shade. The spot centered on one of the under-discussed injustices of a Trump presidency: “at least four years of awful hair.” Showcasing a diverse array of models rocking different hair types and textures, It’s A 10 inspired Americans to keep on styling even in the face of Armageddon. It was a fantastic blow to our infamously vain Commander-in-Chief, as well as a subtle jab (I would like to think) at Tom Brady’s rapidly receding hairline. White men with hopeless hairdos might be winning right now, but at least the rest of us have a good sense of humor. Also, an insatiable appetite for resistance.