Super Bowl LV Advertising Gets a 15-yard Penalty
Diverse representation matters. That’s been the mantra across the advertising industry and all facets of Corporate America for the last 8 to 10 months, and rightfully so. The challenges and atrocities that we’ve collectively experienced in that timeframe have led to a social awakening. We experienced a moment of national catharsis on January 20, where we saw an inauguration ceremony and virtual TV celebration that was diverse in every way, with a multi-colored, multi-lingual, multi-abled, gender-inclusive snapshot of who we are and what we aspire to be every day. Alas, we didn’t see that in last night’s Super Bowl advertising, despite the major improvements made in the ads from Super Bowl LIV, in 2020.
From assessing the ads that aired nationally, it feels like we regressed at least 15 years. Yes, McDonald’s had a song with a line in Spanish that served as a wink to Hispanics and several brands produced spots with multi-ethnic casts reminiscent of the United Colors of Benetton ads, but much of it came off as people of color playing roles that reflect a white lifestyle just to check boxes. A handful of spots featured African American and Asian celebrities, athletes and talent in lead roles, but where were the Latinos? True, the Mexican beer brands represented with Latino stories – Corona with Bad Bunny and Modelo Especial with a Mexican tattoo artist – but that’s expected. What about the American brands? If it weren’t for Cardi B’s cameo appearance alongside Wayne and Garth in the Uber Eats spot or the Paso Doble inspired Reggaetón soundtrack in the Logitech spot, Latinos and Latino culture were largely non-existent and totally ignored in this year’s ads. We were even absent from Budweiser’s 90-second online ad touting their contributions to vaccine awareness work with the Ad Council, “The Bigger Picture,” despite the fact that Latinos have been among the hardest hit by and are experiencing profound inequities from the pandemic. The same can be said for the LGBTQ+ and Differently Abled communities across all the advertising. Sure, there was a could-be fake Maluma in the Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer spot, but is this representative of a nation that is nearly 20% Hispanic. Does this reflect the country we saw on display on January 20? Do brands realize that the Super Bowl consistently ranks as a top-rated program among Hispanics, regardless of language, year after year?
Some claim the big void was the absence of the usual advertisers like Budweiser, Coke, Pepsi and Hyundai, but to me it was the absence of the country’s largest and fastest-growing ethnic group. Perhaps it’s driven by the false assumption that Latinos only like soccer and baseball. “Or perhaps the priority on diversity was on the Afro-Americans followed by Asians, and advertisers didn’t want to dilute the focus by adding Hispanics to the mix, as Paco Olavarrieta, CCO of the agency, mentioned.” Perhaps it’s the result of the failed Total Market Approach, which was finally pronounced dead in 2020 but still may have some lingering after effects. Perhaps it’s the lack of diversity at the larger ad agencies. Whatever the case, advertisers have to do better than this, especially those that have committed to championing equality, equity and social justice. Based on last night’s presentation and the greater proliferation of general market spots in Spanish-language media, even in English, the Hispanic community may see all of this as disingenuous and pure lip service.