Selling Diversity

I am still bitter about the Super Bowl. I don’t want to talk about how the Falcons could have just made one more field goal to secure the win. I don’t want to talk about how excited and full of hope I was at half time. I don’t want to talk about how I avoided Facebook (read, Patriots Fans) for a few days afterward. I just don’t want to talk football until, well, next preseason.

However, this is one large part of the Super Bowl I do want to discuss. No, not Lady Gaga (because let’s face it, her performance was beyond words). But, the commercials.

We all know Super Bowl ads are notorious, possibly more so than the game itself among certain groups of people. With the possibility to reach over one hundred million people – at the low price of $5 million for a 30 second spot – Super Bowl ads pose a great opportunity for a company to convey their message, whatever it may be.

I will admit, I am a fan of the funny Super Bowl ad. (One of my favorites is from Doritos in 2014.) But this year, it seemed the goal of companies was to not make viewers laugh, but instead, to take a stand. Many advertisements had a political theme, with a message of inclusion and embracing diversity. In his article for Forbes, contributor William Arruda states:

“The plethora of diversity and inclusion-theme Super Bowl ads demonstrates how many household name companies are recognizing that authentically embracing diversity will help them win – in the war for talent, and in the marketplace.”

Didn’t watch the game? Well, here are just a few ads to catch you up to speed:

Coca-Cola rebroadcast the add from 2014, featuring “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages. (This ad originally faced controversy when it premiered.)

It’s a 10 Hair Care took a hairstyle inspired stance to diversity and inclusion, with an opening jab at the Commander-in-Chief’s hairdo:

Airbnb’s ad is perhaps the most direct. But, the company is known for being vocal against the policies of the United States government:

All three of these ads celebrate everyone in the United States, not just those who may seem conventional. Minorities are celebrated and diversity is portrayed as an asset. This message is especially poignant today, in a time when many believe that United States government does not share these values. Watching these ads, it is easy to feel excited and hopeful that diversity is being embraced by the people of the United States. And large companies? The ones which carefully craft the advertisements? They are seen as leading the charge.

As public sentiment shifts to become more inclusive of all people, the great the push-back against the government, which many perceive to stand in the way of progress. Especially with the President’s executive order, (which has subsequently been struck down by the 9th Circuit Court), messages of diversity and inclusion further the progressive idea of greater protection for those not in the majority. A goal which may seem far off for some.

But one way of doing this? Supporting politicians that adopt a “Brennan-esque” interpretation of the United States Constitution – a living Constitution. The interpretation Brennan champions may have complex implications, but the interpretative method is simple. One must ask themselves: what do the words of the Constitution mean in the current time? Justice Brennan advocates for “each generation [to have] the choice to overrule or add to the fundamental principles enunciated by the Framers” (3). Brennan believes in a great adaptability of the words of the Constitution to “cope with current problems and current needs” of the people, not just those who are in power (5). And for a great many, there is a perception that the views of the people currently do not match the views of the federal government. Now is the time to incite a shift in these fundamental policies.

Therefore, by watching these commercials and buying the products advertised, it’s easy to feel like we are at lasting holding the government to its role of being a “provider for so many disadvantaged citizens” (5). But, is this really the case? Are the messages conveyed in these feel-good, diverse ads, really influential? Will change come from them?

Well, I think that’s up to the companies and how they plan to support their causes.

I don’t know about you, but I think that to promote a political agenda, or push back against one, advertising won’t hurt. However, I think that consumers need to tread lightly when they are viewing these advertisements, especially if they are in favor of their political message. It seems as if it could be easy to fall into the trap of a sense of activism, that buying a certain product or supporting a certain brand is a way to actively take a stand against the government. While I don’t think this is inherently a bad thing, I would hope that it would not be anyone’s primary medium of political activism. After all, even if a company is committed to a certain cause and working to further it, their commercials still are marketing, designed to increase sales.

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3 Responses to Selling Diversity

  1. Ryan Wadding says:

    I think your best point made is the last one. I agree that folks should tread lightly when it comes to viewing these types of advertisements because it is easy to fall into a sense of satisfaction, even if all one has done is buy products or services from a business they perceive as making a difference that they support. Although, that is not to say that I do not support boycott initiatives because I think boycotts can be effective and can influence their targets in a meaningful way. With all that said, I loved this year’s Superbowl ads. As expected, they are top-tier advertisements, but this year there was an overarching message of diversity and that, as you pointed out, gave me hope for beyond. And who knows, maybe that financial incentive of the for-profit world is leading these companies to the conclusion that public opinion is shifting and if they wish to come out on top, they need to support the right message. Speaking of activism, did you see the Kia advertisement with Melissa McCarthy? When I saw the advertisement air, my first thought was: “Is activism cool now?” If so, there is always room for more activists and if Kia wants to carry that message, that is perfectly acceptable to me. Anyway, great post. Cheers!

    Here is a link to the Kia ad for those interested:

    • azwoodland says:

      Thanks for the reply, Ryan! Charity based or activism based business models have always been something that I have struggled with. For example, TOMS shoes with their buy a pair – donate a pair strategy. I believe that companies which appeal to people’s sense of philanthropy to turn a profit is unethical. Yes, TOMS donates shoes and is making strides to improve the communities which they serve. But, at the end of the day, they profit from others’ hardships. It would be better for the communities in need to donate the $40-$100 they would spend on a TOMS product. But, by buying a product that comes from a “charitable” company consumers can further justify purchases they may not have otherwise made.

      This is not to say that it is impossible to be a company with a charitable cause. For example, Starbucks with their commitment to hiring veterans and refugees, or REI with their partnership with State and National Parks. I believe the burden is on the consumer though, to do their research be knowledgeable about the companies and causes they support!

      Also, I did see that commercial, and I thought it was hilarious. I’ll have to research Kia’s “Ecoboost”!

      • lalalandsucked says:

        Like Ryan, I also agree that my favorite point of yours was your final one. I do think it is important to know what the political stances of those you choose to give your money to are. For this reason, I adamantly avoid shopping at Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-a. However, I also see the potential for a political stance to be used by businesses to profit without necessarily actually holding the values to heart in the way that the business is run. For this reason this form of “consumerist activism” (if you will) is especially disconcerting considering activism is something that has been heavily promoted since Donald Trump’s election. I feel there is definitely a tendency for most people to contribute passively – whether for lack of time or lack of concern. In this sense, businesses making a political stance, but doing nothing to further their cause is especially detrimental because of those who would be inclined to purchase products from these businesses and call it a day, thinking they’ve contributed to the “greater good” or whatever.

        In that vein, I’m interested in the opinion you expressed about companies like TOMS, because I too have struggled with that line of thought. On the one hand, you’re absolutely right that they’re profiting by capitalizing on the misfortunes of others, but on the other hand, at least they’re doing something concrete with your money that will certainly benefit at least the recipient of the other pair of shoes. I often find issue with throwing money at charities or companies simply because past certain mission statements it’s hard to know where that money is truly going. The book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo would probably voice my concerns a little bit better, it’s a book that explores the failures of financial aid towards third-world countries. While I realize that that’s a bit of a leap from the discussion at hand, I feel like this idea is still relevant to this situation. I suppose it’s just always hard to know exactly what your money is going to when you support a business, and it requires that one is educated on the businesses they support and what they are truly funding.

        All in all, though, I really enjoyed your piece and you presented some very thought provoking ideas (as you can see from my two-paragraph tangent). Keep up the good work!

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