comscore Challenge for Super Bowl ads: Not taking sides, politically | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Challenge for Super Bowl ads: Not taking sides, politically

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    People walked through the NFL Experience on Thursday in Houston. The Atlanta Falcons are scheduled to play the New England Patriots on Sunday in the NFL football Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is a popular destination for commercials showcasing premium water, candy and beer — but politics can make it a difficult forum.

84 Lumber, a private supplier of building materials in Pennsylvania that is advertising during the game for the first time this year, said it was forced to alter its plans for a commercial after Fox deemed its depiction of a Spanish-speaking mother and daughter confronting a border wall between the United States and Mexico, which President Donald Trump has pledged to build, as “too controversial.”

The ad, set to run before halftime during the network’s broadcast of the game Sunday, will now showcase the pair on a journey, but omit the wall. Instead, the address of a website will appear on the screen, giving viewers a chance to see how their story ends.

“I still can’t even understand why it was censored,” Maggie Hardy Magerko, 84 Lumber’s president and owner, said in an interview this week. “In fact, I’m flabbergasted by that in today’s day and age. It’s not pornographic, it’s not immoral, it’s not racist.”

Advertisers pay millions of dollars for commercial space during the game, but the network and the National Football League maintain the right to approve any ad.

“We review spots to ensure they do not violate our advertising policies,” a league spokesman, Brian McCarthy, said in an email. “The ad that will air does not violate our policies.” He did not say if the NFL had asked for 84 Lumber’s original commercial to be altered.

Fox declined to comment, but the network’s advertising guidelines online say that, in general, it will not sell commercial time “for viewpoint or advocacy of controversial issues.” It adds that advertisers cannot use the space to address such topics.

But with political tension in the country running high since the election of Trump, keeping politics completely away from the broadcast is a difficult task.

Budweiser, for instance, has gained notice it wasn’t anticipating for its Super Bowl ad. The commercial, which was released online this week and has passed 2 million views on YouTube, recounts how the brewery’s co-founder immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1800s and notes the discrimination he overcame. Budweiser has emphasized that it is not responding to Trump’s immigration crackdown last weekend.

“We believe beer should be bipartisan, and did not set out to create a piece of political commentary,” Marcel Marcondes, vice president for marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev, said in a statement. “However, we recognize that you can’t reference the American dream today without being part of the conversation.”

In 2012, a Chrysler Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood was seen by some conservatives as pandering to President Barack Obama after his administration’s bailout of automakers.

In the case of 84 Lumber, Magerko said that Fox vetoed the initial idea based on a storyboard of the proposed commercial from Brunner, the company’s ad agency. That document, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said the commercial would show a mother and daughter on “an arduous journey north,” as U.S. workers built a large structure. Their journey appeared doomed once they reached the wall until a patriotic symbol inspired them to find a massive doorway — which is what the workers were creating all along. The final line: “The will to succeed will always be welcome here.”

Magerko, who said she voted for Trump, said the ad was meant to recruit employees in their 20s “who really believe in American dreams.” She expressed concern about the labor shortage her company is facing. She said she had a welcoming attitude toward certain immigrants, while providing the caveat that she had faith in elected officials to “make the decisions to make us safe.”

“I am all about those people who are willing to fight and go that extra yard to make a difference and then if they have to, you know, climb higher, go under, do whatever it takes to become a citizen. I am all for that 110 percent,” she said. “But do I want cartels? Hell, no.”

It has become a marketing strategy of sorts over the years to intentionally create a Super Bowl ad that will never make it to air, then capitalize on online traffic. But Magerko said that was not 84 Lumber’s plan, noting that the company is still showing the edited 90-second spot that Fox has approved.

Magerko said that some people might think she was “as crazy as a loon to go out there and buy this enormous ad that makes no sense financially.”

“I’m sure I’m going to have economists and all these people say she’s an idiot, and maybe I am,” she said. “But I’m an idiot that has some money now that my people made for me, and I owe it to them to say that they’re great and I need more people like them.”

A company representative confirmed that it spent more than $5 million on the ad, which was the average rate this year for 30 seconds.

The company, which draws about $2.9 billion in revenue per year and has been rebuilding since the recession, is keen on igniting a conversation around housing and labor, she said.

As for immigration and the wall, “We didn’t know this was going to be the hot topic six weeks ago,” Magerko said. “We knew it was a topic. We didn’t know it was the topic.”

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