By Anne Zeiser,
Founder of Azure Media
Founder of Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media
This year’s $5 million a pop Super Bowl spots delivered the requisite ads about cars, snacks, franchise movies, and beer en masse using the reliable devices of humor, celebrities, and CGI graphics. But a new mandate for Super Bowl ads has emerged in these tempestuous times –– ads with a social message.
While most spots played it safe, the brands and organizations that took the PR risk and dedicated the considerable funds to go socially conscious, went big and went high. Three of those social issue spots were clear standouts with strong narrative arcs, each underscoring relevant social themes.
Our Home-Our Planet
Budweiser’s “Wind Never Felt Better” combines three essential ingredients for this savory spot. First, Bob Dylan’s ‘60s protest classic, “Blowin’ In the Wind” proves emotionally gripping, ageless, and by the ad’s conclusion, a perfect fit for the overall message. The anthem provides an entrée to the next key ingredient, Bud’s lovable animals. The spot opens with a tight shot of the Budweiser Dalmatian traveling in a vehicle, languishing as the wind flaps his lips and ears. It channels the trope of the funny dog-in-car ad, but as the camera zooms back we see the pup is atop an eight-in-hand Clydesdale-pulled beer wagon traversing a field (of barley). The viewer is already satisfied by seeing this display of equine power and beauty and the camera gives us what we want, training on the horses for a while. Finally, the camera pulls back again to reveal the third ingredient, unexpected wind turbines in the background of this heartfelt landscape. At that moment, the music’s lyrics reach us at yet another level. The spot resolves to the messages, “Wind Never Felt Better” and “Now Brewed With Wind Power for a Better Tomorrow,” as the harmonica ends the song with a flourish. Simply brilliant. This one-minute film has the horsepower to remind us of our responsibility to Mother Earth and the need to combat climate change by using renewable energy.
Those Who Look Different Are Able
The “We All Win” spot for Microsoft’s Xbox adaptable videogame controller starts with quick shots of kids introducing themselves. Just kids, it seems. Then it profiles nine-and-half-year-old Owen, whose father tells us he has a rare genetic disorder, Escobar Syndrome. Owen’s already undergone 33 surgeries and has visible physical limitations. In his own words Owen tells us who he is through common kid measures – how old he is, that he loves his friends and family, and that his passion is video gaming (repeats twice). Owen’s clearly not about his condition or any perceived disability; he’s about what he can do. And he brings his already introduced friends into the mix as we witness their animated video game session. Some of Owen’s friends are missing arms or hands, yet are able to play Xbox with the adaptive controller. Owen explains, “What I like about the Adaptable Controller, is now everyone can play.” Tears well up in Owen’s dad’s eyes, “He’s not different when he plays.” At a time when video gaming needs an image boost more than ever, Microsoft’s Xbox Adaptive Controller short story wins the game of placing gaming in a new light, demonstrating how accessible technology can make us all able-bodied.
Facts Must Prevail
“Democracy Dies in Darkness” is the Washington Post’s Super Bowl installment of its ongoing multi-platform campaign (of the same name) about how facts beget enlightenment. The Jeff Bezos-owned stalwart of the Fourth Estate has taken the White House’s “fake news” assault on journalism, head on. Who more credible and honorable (among actors) to voice this spot than the inimitable, Tom Hanks? The simple, but powerful words and symbolic graphics of this one-minute social documentary show us how facts and the pursuit of truth underpin our grand American experiment:
When we go off to war. (Omaha Beach in WWII)
When we exercise our rights. (Selma Alabama Civil Rights protest)
When we soar to our greatest heights. (U.S. flag planted on the moon)
When we mourn and pray. (Casket lying in state in the Capitol rotunda)
When are neighbors are at risk. (Firefighters fighting wildfires)
When our nation is threatened. (Oklahoma City federal building bombing blast)
There’s someone to gather the facts. (Police in riot gear)
To bring you the story. (Various reporters in action from many media outlets)
No matter the cost. (Journalist profiles: Austin Tice, captured in 2012; Marie Colvin, killed 2012; Jamal Khashoggi, killed 2018)
Knowing empowers us.
Knowing helps us decide.
Knowing keeps us free.
THE WASHINGTON POST- Democracy Dies in Darkness
This spot makes us tingle with pride about our democratic and journalistic legacy and feel steely resolve to use facts to stamp out the darkness of ignorance.
Other spots in Super Bowl LIII hit socially conscious notes, but these three were the most powerful. They were noticed and felt, trending on many online platforms and spawning considerable commentary and debate. In an immediate Twitter post about the Washington Post spot, Donald Trump, Jr. opined about the mainstream media, “how about report the news and not their leftist BS for a change.” Scorching across social media, this comment made the “Democracy Dies in Darkness” spot’s very point.
Anne Zeiser is a critically acclaimed transmedia and social impact producer and media strategist. She’s stewarded films and iconic series for PBS, produced news for CBS, managed national brands for marketing firms, and founded Azure Media, which develops transmedia projects on air, online, and on the go that fuel social impact in communities, in schools, and in capitals. She’s the author of Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media, from Focal Press’ American Film Market® Presents book series.
Follow Anne Zeiser on Twitter at @AzureMedia