The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Strategic CSR - Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is taking place this weekend here in the US. In addition to the game itself, this event is known for the advertising that takes place during commercial breaks. Given the large potential captive audience, firms are willing to pay heavily for the chance to present to them and tradition dictates that they go all out. Often in previous years, the ads have been more eventful and entertaining than the game.
 
More recently, however, companies have begun to stray from product announcements and juvenile humor to tackle more difficult topics that the country is wrestling with at the time. One famous/infamous attempt (depending on your perspective) was Coca-Cola's ad for the 2014 Super Bowl, in which a very visibly diverse group of people (all of whom were US citizens) sang "America the Beautiful" in different languages (it still gives me goose bumps). See the 90 second version of the ad here, and some of the backlash/controversy it generated here.
 
Anyway, 2014 seems like a different age when we could be shocked by such 'controversial' acts. According to the article in the url below, we are now much more jaded and just want companies to stay away from such 'political' statements:
 
"More brands are capturing headlines by tangling with political and social issues in their advertising campaigns. A new poll suggests, however, that most Americans would rather they don't try the same thing during the Super Bowl. And viewers are likely to get what they want. Two-thirds of consumers call the Super Bowl an inappropriate place for advertisers to make political statements."
 
The graph in the article reports that, when asked if the Super Bowl is the "right platform for advertisers to make political statements," 2,200 respondents replied:
  • Very appropriate 7%
  • Somewhat appropriate 13%
  • Not too appropriate 17%
  • Not at all appropriate 49%
  • Don't know 14%

As might be expected, there are differences among generations, but even the youngest respondents were not keen on Super Bowl ads:
 
"Baby boomers in the poll disapproved of political Super Bowl advertisements more, at 77%, than younger cohorts such as millennials (55%) and Generation Z, defined as those 18-21 years old (43%). … Only 35% of Gen Z respondents to the poll called political Super Bowl ads "very" or "somewhat" appropriate."
 
This is a little strange, given that the mix of sport and politics was seeming to gain traction with Nike's support for Colin Kaepernick (see Strategic CSR – Patriotism and Strategic CSR - ESPN). The trouble is, I don't see how firms can avoid being 'political.' If they were to say we value our customers or our employees, I am guessing people would be OK with that, but it is no less of a political statement. I am sure there are issues that people would rather not be troubled with as they work their way through an unhealthy amount of chicken wings, but that is different from wanting firms to remove values from their advertising. Everything any firm does is grounded in ethics and values and morals—it is just that some firms judge the mood of the country better than other firms and get their ads 'right,' while others misjudge the mood and get their ads 'wrong.' What I like so much about the Coca-Cola ad is that the company knew it was putting something controversial out and it did it anyway. It felt the values were more important and they wanted to stand by them. It is why I love the ad so much. I wish more companies were as brave.
 
Enjoy the football for those of you in the US.
David
 
 
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Consumers Say Brands Shouldn't Bring Politics to the Super Bowl
By Nat Ives
January 16, 2019
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final