Super Bowl ads toned down by Trump’s shadow?


Donald Trump appeared in a Super Bowl ad five years ago, where he was outsmarted by a Century 21 agent. This time you won’t find President Trump in the ads, though his unmistakable shadow will loom over them.

84 Lumber, a leading supplier of building materials, has a 90-second Super Bowl spot that will air just before halftime. You won’t see the original version unless you go online. M.J. Brunner Inc., the agency that created the ad, says 84 Lumber seeks to present itself as a company looking for good employees, no matter where they come from. The ad’s original imagery included a wall — and the agency says FOX asked it to go back to the drawing board.

Trump will have been president for little more than two weeks on Super Bowl Sunday, and ad experts say the mere fact of his administration will be felt in some of the pricey commercials, though in ways more subtle than the explicit example of 84 Lumber.

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, points to a country that is polarized by a bruising election campaign and a simmering anger that lingers in the land.

“We are obviously in a very tense social moment,” Thompson tells USA TODAY Sports. “Most advertisers are not going to want to do something that could be provocative to a large part of a population that’s in an already provoked state.”

Some brands have released their ads early. None so far feature the sort of brazen, sexually charged vibe made famous years ago by web-hosting company GoDaddy, though some are mildly naughty.


There’s a spot where a housewife lusts after a muscled CGI version of Mr. Clean — gyrating as he mops — but it soon develops her fantasy is really her rumpled hubby, made sexy by the mere act of housework. And there is a Yellow Tail wine spot, which will air in 85% of the country through local ad buys, that blends suggestiveness with playfulness.

In that one, a brand spokesman called Yellow Tail Guy and his animatronic kangaroo named Roo are at the beach where they run into Aussie-born supermodel Ellie Gonsalves in her white bikini.

“Want to pet my Roo?” the guy asks.

Tom Steffanci, president of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, U.S. importer and marketer of the Australian wine, believes the scene plays as funny without crossing the line. “We did think that the Super Bowl was a good stage for that line,” he says.

Political climate was never a consideration because the creative direction of the ad campaign was set long before election day. Steffanci says bigger brands with bigger budgets may be agile enough to make late changes, but his and others are not.

“I think there is some risk involved having a supermodel in an ad,” he says. “That’s going to be beloved by many and questioned by a few.”

Though Thompson wonders about predictions that “there’s not going to be as much frat-boy humor, with outrageous sexiness, this year. I have a hard time figuring out: Which side are they trying not to offend?”


Shawn McBride, executive vice president, sports, at Ketchum Sports and Entertainment, says the tone of the times is often reflected in Super Bowl…