Illustration by Michele Perry / image still courtesy of Water.org & Stella Artois/YouTube

4 awesome Super Bowl ads with a charitable spin

These commercials raised awareness about important community issues, from HIV-AIDS to clean drinking water

C an you remember your favourite Super Bowl commercial from years past? If you can, chances are it’s not a funny one, or even one that featured a big-name celeb. According to a study by marketing students at the Villanova School of Business, ads that pull at your heartstrings are the most memorable. “It’s not that humour isn’t effective,” explained student-researcher Erika Serhus. “But the ones that make you think tend to stay with you longer.”

That could explain why large companies, such as Bank of America and Budweiser, have been using the coveted (not to mention expensive) advertising space to highlight their philanthropic efforts—and why we might see even more do-good ads during this year’s broadcast.

In the past 10 years, 6.4 per cent of Super Bowl ads drew attention to companies’ social responsibility, but experts believe that number will continue to climb. After all, everyone likes a feel-good story. “Super Bowl ads always reflect the mood of the country to a certain degree,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University, in a 2018 interview with AdAge. “[The United States] has all sorts of issues right now and it’s very polarizing. And this may be brands responding to that by embracing causes that everybody can rally around.”

To get you in the mood for this season’s offerings, we’ve rounded up four of our favourite Super Bowl commercials that raised awareness and/or funds for a charitable cause.

2014: Bank of America in support of (RED)

Bank of America teamed up with U2 to raise funds for (RED), an organization dedicated to the fight against HIV-AIDS. The band debuted a new song, “Invisible,” in Bank of America’s Super Bowl spot. Then, for 30 hours after the ad aired, Bank of America donated $1 for every free download of the song, raising more than $3 million.

2015: NFL in support of No More

According to The Associated Press, the biggest sports story of 2014 had nothing to do with game play, and everything to do with players. Players like Ray Rice, for example, who was suspended (and then reinstated) after assaulting his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator. Or Adrian Peterson, who was charged with child abuse after beating his son with a tree branch. Domestic violence was top of mind at the beginning of 2015, which is why the NFL donated ad space at Super Bowl 49 to No More, an anti–domestic violence organization. No More’s commercial, which was inspired by a true story, is a chilling depiction of a woman who disguises her 911 call as a pizza order to avoid getting caught by her abuser. The commercial has been viewed more than 10 million times since it first aired.

2018: Stella Artois in support of Water.org

Stella Artois’ commercial for Super Bowl 52 drew attention to its partnership with Water.org. The ad featured actor Matt Damon, a Water.org co-founder, and stressed the fact that millions of people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water—and that the purchase of a limited-edition Stella Artois chalice could change that. Damon explained to viewers that if only one percent of the ad’s viewers bought a chalice, it could fund five years of clean water for one million people.

2018: Budweiser for American Red Cross

In 2017, Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, donated nearly 3 million cans of clean drinking water to communities in Houston, Puerto Rico, California and Florida that were affected by natural disasters. (According to Anheuser-Busch’s press release, “The same production and logistical capabilities used to can and deliver beer across the country makes the company uniquely equipped to do its small part by providing a vital necessity—clean drinking water.”) In 2018, the beer company used their Super Bowl ad spot to give customers a look inside these efforts, showcasing a brewery filling cans of water instead of beer to the tune of “Stand by Me.”

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