On the sidelines

Ads caught in political whirlwind

Above: Singer Lady Gaga performing during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in Houston, Texas. Right: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania watching the game at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Singer Lady Gaga performing during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in Houston, Texas.PHOTO: REUTERS
Above: Singer Lady Gaga performing during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in Houston, Texas. Right: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania watching the game at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida.
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania watching the game at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida.PHOTO: REUTERS

HOUSTON • There was the game on the field, and there was the one watched through the political prism of these times.

On social media, the Atlanta Falcons were stand-ins for anti-Trump ferment at Sunday's Super Bowl, coming from a staunchly Democratic city and facing a New England Patriots team whose owner (Robert Kraft), head coach (Bill Belichick) and starting quarterback (Tom Brady) are all friends with the American leader, to varying degrees.

Not long before the game started, President Donald Trump predicted a Patriots win by eight points in part out of support for his friends. That prediction was the object of ridicule as Atlanta surged ahead, but then it ended up appearing prescient as the Patriots stormed back to win, 34-28, in the first Super Bowl overtime.

Mr Trump did not attend the game, opting for a traditional Super Bowl-watching party near his vacation home in South Florida.

But social media users dissected a picture of him and his family not looking enthusiastic at a table there and took a sometimes harsh note of his departure with nearly 90 minutes left.

A succession of commercials with themes of inclusion, immigration and multiculturalism were seen by many viewers as commentary on Mr Trump's executive orders restricting immigration and his calls for a wall along the Mexican border.

One commercial made by Anheuser-Busch follows the path of one of the company's co-founders, Adolphus Busch, as he immigrated from Germany to the United States. The ad was criticised by right-leaning commentators who created the hashtag #BoycottBudweiser.

The construction-supply company 84 Lumber had an ad that featured imagery of a Mexican mother and daughter on a journey north for a better life in the United States. The company deleted some scenes depicting a border wall but included the full ad on its website.

Airbnb's TV spot highlighted multiculturalism and the hashtag #WeAccept.

While some companies may have been swept up in the desire to make a statement of principle, marketing professor Larry Chiagouris of Pace University said it was a risky strategy.

"The people who buy these products come from all political persuasions," he said. "No brand can afford to alienate any of them."

About the only aspect of the game that generated a surprisingly more muted political discussion than expected was the one everybody seemed to think would cause a stir: the half-time show by Lady Gaga, a persistent critic of Mr Trump.

With a dash of patriotic imagery - red and blue drones forming the shape of the US - she mostly stuck to her hits, with only a few gestures that some interpreted as subtle digs at the President.

Still, at the end Mr Trump exulted, once again stoking support and derision.

"What an amazing comeback and win by the Patriots," he tweeted. "Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and Coach B are total winners. Wow!"

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Ads caught in political whirlwind'. Print Edition | Subscribe