In recent decades the Super Bowl has evolved beyond a national athletic competition, into being a tournament of the world's best advertisers. This year, ad agencies delivered their best for a number of brands, but a few of the commercials had underlying political messages as well.
Read on to find out how five of this year's Super Bowl commercials demonstrated strategies that might seem to have more to do with Capitol Hill than the football field.
|Jeep, 'Whole Again'|
When a commercial features a voiceover by Oprah Winfrey, you know it's serious, and Jeep's "Whole Again" Super Bowl spot delivered the first somber mood of the night.
Narrated by Winfrey, the Jeep add made the point that normal life is not so normal for military families, because they constantly miss their loved ones. The commercial, one of the longest of the night, spoke about a subject that often gets lost in the hype of events like the Super Bowl.
About 66,000 U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department. Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan is supposed to be complete by December 2014 according to NATO agreements, but Pentagon officials speculate that some U.S. troops are likely to remain past the deadline.
Jeep's tribute to American military families was still a commercial, even though it used a patriotic message to try to sell viewers a product, but it stood out among the talking babies and pistachios dancing with a Korean rapper as a somber reminder of the reality that many Americans face.
|VW, 'Get Happy'|
For the past few years Volkswagen has been churning out memorable Super Bowl ads (who could forget the "Star Wars" theme of 2012?) and this year did not disappoint. For its 2013 spot, VW transformed an otherwise boring guy into an easy-going Jamaican who reminded everyone in his bland office to "get happy!" The ad sparked controversy, with some accusing it of subtle racism since the main character, a white man, adopted a Jamaican accent.
Tweets responding to the spot ranged from naming it as one of the best commercials of the night to calling it "uncomfortably racist." New York Times columnist Charles Blow went so far as to call it a modern version of a blackface performance.
In response, representatives from Volkswagen said they screened the ad to a focus group of actual Jamaicans before approving it to run in the Super Bowl.
As it turns out, the Jamaicans in the focus group interpreted the ad favorably and Jamaican officials said they believed the ad could improve tourism. Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill told The Associated Press, "I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally."
Looks like newly sworn in Secretary of State John Kerry will have one less international problem to deal with.
|Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 'Demand a Plan'|
It is only natural that the most watched television event of the year features the most heavily debated topic of the year, in more ways than one. Funded mostly by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group followed up the patriotic sentiment of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Choir's performance of the National Anthem with an ad pushing gun control reform.
Overall, the ad was simple but clear -- photos of children flashed as "America the Beautiful" played in the background and a child's voice said, "The N.R.A. once supported background checks." From there, the ad cut to a video of Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the N.R.A., stating his support for background checks in 1999, after which the same child's voice said, "America can do this for us ... please."
LaPierre has since rescinded his support for background checks, citing the action to be a "federal nightmare" if approved. Given the ad's main intent as an act of lobbying, the spot only aired in the Washington, D.C. area, where gun control debates are ongoing in Congress.
|Chrysler, 'Keep Plowing'|
Chrysler continued its pattern of serious commercials with emotional appeal in this year's Dodge ad by focusing on the American farmer. Set against an iconic speech delivered by ABC broadcaster Paul Harvey at the 1978 Future Farmers of America convention, the ad featured intense visuals like tired faces, lonely homes and crop fields, and rough hands and cracked nails.
Like the Jeep commercial that preceded it, the serious tone addressed a group of people that is not regularly associated with the typical Super Bowl commercial -- the American farmer. In an elevated attempt to demonstrate the toughness of the Dodge Ram (in association with the American farmer), Chrysler is pledging to raise $1 million to support the FFA in 2013.
However, Chrysler's open association with a special interest group is not what is creating controversy. As the commercial pushes half a million views online, comments center around Harvey's focus on "God" in the speech.
Some nonreligious viewers say they take offense at the ad's association of religion with hard work, while viewers on the opposite end of the spectrum say they are disappointed by the cynicism expressed about the commercial.
|Church of Scientology|
Super Bowl viewers around the country were scratching their heads when a commercial promoting the Church of Scientology ran among the ads for tortilla chips, beer and cars.
At first glance, the commercial could have been mistaken for a documentary trailer, given its numerous shots of attractive people and scenes from all over the world. The voiceover says that all of these people are "in search of truth" and want to explore truth uniquely while avoiding "magic and mysticism."
Air time for this commercial was not actually purchased as part of the national Super Bowl air space, but rather ran in various local TV commercial spots around the country.
The original commercial has been out since Dec. 18, and was cut to a 30-second spot for the Super Bowl ad schedules. YouTube views of the full commercial are quickly reaching the 100,000 mark, delivering the rapid increase of impressions the church was seeking, but comments have been disabled so public responses associated with the viewership are unknown.