The Super Bowl is a time for hot wings, dips, extravagant performances, entertaining ads and maybe even a little football. This is my first time being in a foreign country for the big game and I actually forgot about it until the day before. Most years, I could care less about which teams are playing and instead I focus on the ads, which is appropriate for an advertising and PR major. I think it’s safe to say that many who watch are not in it for the game, rather for the food and pop culture references. I wasn’t going to watch this year because the game started around 11 pm and I wasn’t feeling too well last night, so I just decided to catch up this morning and I noticed that there seemed to be a major theme uniting both the ads and the performances.
The game was officially opened with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” sang by three women who were in the original production of Hamilton and if you think national anthems aren’t exciting, this Super Bowl proved that wrong. The women sang the iconic line, “and crown thy good, with brotherhood and sisterhood, from sea to shining sea.” You read that correctly, sisterhood. Subtle, yet powerful as the cheers following the slight change in lyrics will attest. Gaga continued the theme of getting across the message of what America really stands for during the opening of her performance.
If you know anything about Lady Gaga, it’s her boldness and messages of acceptance that permeate through her song lyrics, in her music videos, her wardrobe and during her interviews. Not one to shy away from making a statement, I knew Gaga would use the Super Bowl as her own mini protest against the current administration, if not just by singing the song “Born This Way.” Gaga started out with a rendition of “God Bless America,” transitioning to “This Land is Your Land” and then hitting the Pledge of Allegiance. Each section she performed was carefully selected, highlighting important aspects of the songs, like emphasising that America is addressed as a female, standing beside America and guiding her with light (important when there is currently so much darkness), reminding people that “this land was made for you and me,” and citing our promise to keep the nation indivisible and provide liberty and justice for all. This was all done with a starry background comprised of red, white and blue lights that eventually formed the American flag.
Gaga then jumped (literally) into the fireworks and flashy outfits that grace every Super Bowl stage, singing hit after hit. It must be noted that she dedicated one minute and 35 seconds of her allotted 13 minutes to singing “Born This Way,” an anthem used by various minorities, most notably from the LGBTQ+ community, for the fact that it covers so many bases in regards to accepting yourself and accepting others. My Twitter timeline was full of people thanking Lady Gag for simply saying the word transgender on such an international stage.
I think most of us were expecting to see Gaga make some sort of political statement, but I think many of us were unprepared for the amount of ads that spent their time advocating diversity. Super Bowl ad space runs for millions of dollars, which is why many companies like to use humour or sex appeal to make an impact and be talked about in the weeks following the game. This year, it was evident that advertisers wanted to associate themselves with values rather than a quick joke. Audi highlighted gender inequality by blatantly stating the facts: women’s financial value is far less than men. The commercial featured a father struggling with how he would tell his daughter she would always make less than men, but had hope for the future before Audi told viewers it supported and practiced equal pay. Airbnb spread a simple message of acceptance via the beauty of diversity, standing in solidarity with the company’s recent promises to house people and refugees left stranded by recent bans. Construction company 84 Lumber personally affected me as someone who grew up on the US/Mexico border and saw fragments of border fence every day on my way to university. 84 Lumber used a Mexican mother/daughter journey to the US to spread a powerful message of welcoming those who work hard and want to belong to this country. Coca Cola tied the theme of the evening together by resurrecting its 2014 ad “America Is Beautiful” to the tune of “America the Beautiful” sang in various languages, while Budweiser traded in its Clydesdales for the story of its immigrant beginnings. It is truly amazing to see that large corporations spent their millions on reminding viewers of importance of America’s foundation and making sure those who feel ostracised know they have allies.
This is a new era where people are using their voices to shut down intolerance at every opportunity. The Super Bowl’s platform as the most-viewed event of the year wasn’t taken for granted by Gaga and many companies. The fact that a musician included LGBTQ+ lyrics in her performance while highlighting the inclusivity America was founded on are not coincidental. Lady Gaga knew what she was doing and she did it with class and grace. This is a Super Bowl where the Vice President, who believes in conversion therapy, was present; this is a Super Bowl where Tom Brady, who has had his fair share of rings and controversy over his career, keeps a make America great again cap in his locker; this is a Super Bowl where the world tuned in to watch two teams battle it out and see what Doritos had up its sleeve this year, but was treated to powerful, tasteful messages of love trumping hate. Despite featuring the Patriots for the millionth time, this year’s Super Bowl was refreshing and pleasantly surprising from any standpoint and I hope more companies continue to advocate for goodness. Yes, taking sides is a strong PR move because there will be opposition in any direction, but it is also bold and allows consumers to think deeply about their roles as decision-makers.