by Kate Vandeveld

This past Sunday, 111.9 Million viewers tuned in to watch Super Bowl 50. With large-scale events like the Super Bowl, there are huge opportunities for brands to raise awareness around – and promote action to address – social issues. These aren’t easy topics to talk about, so we’re always impressed by those who do so.  

Let’s take a look at a few of the brands that did, and why it matters:

Colgate's #EveryDropCounts

Colgate’s Super Bowl ad focuses on water scarcity and the importance of conservation. The commercial states that when we leave the water running while we brush, we waste up to 4 gallons of water each time – more water than many people use in a week. By turning of the faucet while brushing our teeth, we can each save 3,000 gallons of water each year. 

Intuit's Small Business Big Game: Death Wish Coffee

This year, Intuit held a contest called Small Business Big Game that allowed small businesses to compete for a Super Bowl commercial ad spot, free of charge. Small businesses that usually wouldn’t be able to afford such a highly valued spot were given the opportunity to get major exposure, all on Intuit’s dime. This year’s winner was Death Wish Coffee, a small business that sells fair trade, organic, highly caffeinated, dark roast coffee.

Mini’s #DefyLabels

Mini’s #DefyLabels campaign was created to break down the stereotypes surrounding the car. In this commercial, celebrities like Serena Williams and Abby Wambach, who have both faced negative stereotypes in a very public way, stand up against their labels. The campaign encourages people to forget about stereotypes, saying “Those who defy labels, define themselves.” 


While we don’t want to take away from the awareness raised by these ads and the fact that these brands opted for impactful campaigns at all, we have to call out a few issues we have with them too:

They are expensive

Our feelings of excitement about these ads were followed almost immediately by the question “Why don’t these campaigns put the huge sums of money spent on these spots directly toward fixing the problem?” This is particularly true for campaigns like Colgate’s.  As the internet was quick to point out, Colgate spent a reported $5 million on that ad spot, money that could have gone toward 4.2 million gallons of clean water for the nearly 800 million people without access to it worldwide, including those in crisis in Flint, MI.

They aren’t enough

Though there were a handful of socially conscious ads this year, the number was still relatively small, and not all were action-oriented. For real impact to happen, these campaigns need to include action steps, for viewers and the brands producing them. Raising awareness is important, but with nation as a captive audience, we need to leverage the opportunity in a real way.

They aren't always totally legitimate

Unfortunately, no matter how well intentioned a campaign may appear to be, a little research can pull apart its legitimacy pretty quickly. This year, NO MORE, a national public awareness campaign focused on ending domestic violence, produced a Super Bowl ad about a young woman who didn’t watch the game because of an abusive boyfriend. The ad itself was incredibly impactful, but the problem is what follows. At the end of the ad and in their social media campaign, NO MORE encouraged individuals to pledge their support to end domestic violence by texting a code to a certain number. Critics who have been following the campaign for a long time have argued that NO MORE’s end goal in collecting numbers is simply to push their heavily-sponsored agenda. The bottom line is, with ads like these, it can be difficult to discern which campaigns are going to be truly impactful, as opposed to which are purely for PR.

All in all, we’re glad to see that social impact was represented during this year’s Super Bowl. In this case, as in many, something is always better than nothing, but it’s important to recognize that this “something” is not enough on its own. We hope that next year, we’ll see some real impact and opportunities for action around issues like human trafficking and domestic violence.

Have you seen an ad campaign lately that you think is particularly impactful? Share it with us! Here’s how: