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The Most Liberal, Conservative, and Unifying Super Bowl Ads in 2023

The Most Liberal, Conservative, and Unifying Super Bowl Ads in 2023

The Super Bowl brings together an enormous audience equally divided between liberal and conservative customers. Football and baseball are unique that way - there is an even split of viewers between the two groups (the NBA, for example, skews liberal). Conservative and liberal customers also have about the same spending power. Liberal customers have higher incomes, but conservative customers have lower living costs. Conservative customers live in less population-dense areas where most things are cheaper, including mortgage payments.

Despite this even split between the two groups, some brands create ads that align with one-half of the audience, making their investment less efficient. In those cases, you hope that the brand is at least aligning with the half that makes the most sense for them. In one case, there’s a clear miss - the brand projects a liberal image when its market is primarily conservative. Then there are the brands that deliver ads that unify both audiences, making every dollar work as hard as possible.

This review has nothing to do with brands invoking politics or making a big social statement. It has everything to do with the underlying themes of conservatism and liberalism in America, as well as themes that unify both groups. It’s about worldview - how each group of customers sees the world and what brands and products they want to fit into their world.

Ads That Unify Both Groups

There are two ways to appeal to both liberal and conservative groups simultaneously: You either invoke unifying American individualist themes or combine themes from both groups. Individualist themes include self-determination, self-improvement, ingenuity, underdog, competition, and directness. Differences include respective empathies, changing boundaries, perceptions of the future, visual styles, thought styles, and many more. All are explored in this newsletter.

This year, only one ad invoked American individualism, making it a standout for broad appeal and maximizing investment potential.

#1. Remy Martin and American Individualism

In Remy Martin’s first Super Bowl ad, Serena Williams gives an impassioned speech about competing and winning. It’s pure American individualism combined with a celebrity athlete, which adds up to a very broad appeal. Athlete celebrities are unique compared to most actors and singers because they can appeal to both groups, not just one. Most actors and singers, especially those from current popular culture, will project a more liberal worldview.

The script for the Remy Martin spot could be a manifesto for achieving the American Dream, which underlies conservative and liberal markets. It’s a case study in appealing to both groups for any brand where this approach makes sense.

#2. Michelob Ultra Taps Celebrities that Unify in Fresh Look at the Past

Serena Williams appears in another unifying spot, this time for Michelob Ultra. She competes in golf with a spot that invokes the enormously popular movie Caddyshack. In this case, it’s the combination of unifying elements that creates broad appeal.

There are elements of American individualism with competition together with primarily athletic celebrities. There’s representation from tennis, football, soccer, and boxing, all in a golf setting - something for everyone. It’s also a fresh look at a movie from the past, combining history and newness simultaneously.

#3. Pepsi Winks at Liberal Celebrity Endorsement

Most actors and singers will project a more liberal worldview through their association with popular culture and Hollywood. There are exceptions, of course, with actors who project a conservative image or singers from a conservative genre.

In this ad, Pepsi goes for considerable liberal star power with Ben Stiller and Steve Martin but turns the idea of actor celebrity on its head by calling out acting as fake. This twist can appeal to both groups because the reference to fakeness counters the liberal image of the celebrities. The ending line, “try it for yourself,” also lends itself to a more conservative audience who evaluate products more through personal experience, intuition, and source familiarity.

Ads for the Liberal Half

On the liberal side, it’s the usual celebrity arms race, mainly focusing on actors and singers. It’s not a conspiracy - it’s the natural outcome of more liberal marketing people working with more liberal advertising agencies all agreeing on “what’s cool,” “what’s breakthrough,” or “what’s on trend.” At the very least, ads that project a more liberal worldview should align with a market that is predominantly liberal. If that doesn’t happen, then a brand is just setting fire to money.

#1. Squarespace Misses the Right Half

The Squarespace ad ranks high for projecting a liberal worldview while representing the biggest miss of all ads. The effort invokes the celebrity actor Adam Driver with references to an apocalyptic future, similar in style to the Matrix movies. All of this adds up to a more liberal worldview projection. Liberals are shown to be more drawn to these kinds of themes than conservatives. That would be ok if Squarespace sells primarily to a liberal market, but it doesn’t. They sell website services to self-employed people, entrepreneurs, and small business owners, all of whom skew conservative.

Imagine if Squarespace invoked something similar to the ideas in the Remy Martin ad with a focus on competition, winning, and getting ahead. It would be a natural fit for small businesses. That approach would appeal to both the more significant conservative segment and the smaller liberal segment.

#2. Uber One Rides Their Market

Now contrast the misalignment of Squarespace with this effort by Uber One. This ad also aligns with a liberal audience by employing celebrity star power from popular culture. Unlike Squarespace, however, Uber One’s audience is very liberal. Uber’s service is primarily delivered in urban and inner suburban environments, both of which skew quite liberal. So here’s a strong liberal worldview that aligns quite well with the target audience.

#3. Jeep Self-Expresses Uniqueness for Liberal Customers

According to Strategic Vision, Jeep is equally popular with liberal and conservative customers. Yet this ad appears to align more with the liberal half of the market, even without uttering a single word. First, the ad is strong on self-expression and projecting uniqueness with dancing animals. Research shows that liberal customers lean into self-expression to communicate their uniqueness far more than conservative customers. Second, animated, dancing animals will appeal more to a liberal audience. Research shows liberals are much more empathetic to non-human entities, including animals, aliens, and even rocks.

Ads for the Conservative Half

With far less competition for conservative viewers, you can argue that conservative-themed ads will stand out more for that market. Still, if you’re appealing to primarily one group over another, there is some loss of efficiency. The saving grace of these spots is that they generally project the correct worldview for the market.

#1. RAM Knows Its Audience

RAM had two efforts this year. The first ad featured country music star, Chris Stapleton. He’s a case of a singer celebrity who will appeal more to conservative customers. The script was also quite conservative, invoking “trust, respect, and honor,” core conservative themes. This ad is a master class in appealing to a conservative market. Some liberal customers may like the ad, but I doubt many are considering a RAM truck.

Later in the game, RAM ran a more light-hearted ad showcasing its electric lineup of vehicles. The ads addressed the idea of men fearing “premature electrification.” This felt like a contemporary take on the RAM brand, aligning well with new electric models and possibly a younger conservative market. Certainly, some liberal viewers will find the spot funny, but the brand will not appeal very much to a liberal market. The two ads seem like good bookends for reaching different segments of the conservative audience.

#2. Busch Pokes Fun at the Other Market

Where Jeep celebrated liberal empathy for animals, this Busch ad appears to make fun of it. In a spot featuring a survival guide for the outdoors, singer Sara McLachlan emerges from a tent when “shelter” is mentioned. She starts mimicking ASPCA spots she narrates about saving animals. She’s cut off by the host saying, “not that kind of shelter.” It’s a risky strategy, but the folks of Busch may have great confidence that their market is mostly conservative.

#3. Downy Sniffs Out Its Market

The Downy spot features actor and comedian Danny McBride as “Downy Mcbride,” who rides through a suburban setting in a modified golf cart shooting containers of Downy to neighbors. Danny McBride is an actor, but with conservative resonance. He’s a southerner who left L.A. to move his family to South Carolina after growing up in Georgia.

The spot also employs a lightly militaristic theme, with the guns shooting the Downy containers. All of that adds up to appeal to a more conservative audience. The ending even invokes “sniff it to believe it,” which, like Pepsi’s “try it for yourself” is a more conservative-themed call to action because it focuses on personal familiarity versus hearing from experts.

All of these ads offer lessons in market alignment with liberal or conservative customers. As you can see, none of them invoke politics, social issues, or divisiveness. Instead, they all tap into underlying themes of conservatism, liberalism, and individualism to appeal to different audiences. Great things happen if the alignment is strong - you just have to ask the question and look at your situation in a dispassionate manner.

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"Super interesting - a new and predictive way to understand customers."
Mark Staples, Editorial Director
McKinsey & Company