A Budweiser Super Bowl commercial about immigration that was pre-released on the internet Tuesday has caused a stir in possibly the most dangerous place to cause a stir: the internet.
The commercial, which is slated to air Sunday during Super Bowl LI, is a highly stylized imagining of what it must have been like for the founder of Budweiser, Adolphus Busch, to have made his way to America in 1857. Quickly, the interpretations, and criticisms, began:
Breitbart News, the conservative news website, posted a story Wednesday morning that began: “Budweiser has chosen the charged political issue of immigration as the subject of its Super Bowl LI commercial.” (One of the founding members of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, is chief strategist to President Donald Trump.) The story attracted attention, and also comments. One of the less inflammatory ones: “I watched the whole thing. Made me thirsty for a Coors Light.”
And the match was lit. Soon, Fox News reported the story (“The one-minute ad, ‘Born the Hard Way’ is a departure from the beer maker’s more lighthearted commercials of years past, featuring puppies and the Clydesdales”) and by evening, the major nightly news broadcasts were on the story, too.
By this time, Budweiser — a unit of Belgium-based InBev — had released a statement: “We created the Budweiser commercial to highlight the ambition of our founder, Adolphus Busch, and his unrelenting pursuit of the American dream,” said Marcel Marcondes, vice president of marketing at Anheuser-Busch InBev. “This is a story about our heritage and the uncompromising commitment that goes into brewing our beer. It’s an idea we’ve been developing along with our creative agency for nearly a year.”
Nevertheless, the timing of the commercial was odd, if not necessarily fortuitous, given the current political climate. Most advertisers this Sunday are expected to steer clear of anything that might suggest politics, or political leanings and commentary.
Derek Rucker, professor of marketing for Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said in an interview Wednesday, “Two years ago, Go Daddy had pre-released an ad with a puppy that was met with such outrage that the company apologized and withdrew it from the Super Bowl. They got the message quickly. But if I’m Bud in this situation, I’d be asking how are consumers responding? If this hits on consumer [patriotic] values, this could be OK and they could navigate through those waters. But what happens when the ad airs and a hundred million people are watching?
He added, “I would not want a disaster in the Super Bowl, especially with a brand like Bud.”
The commercial features a young man in the hold of ship. He’s injured, then later arrives in America. He is derided by people on the street: “You don’t look like you’re from around here,” people snarl at him. “Go back home. You’re not wanted around here.”
Next scene: He’s on a boat with a black man, floating down a river, as if Bud were suddenly channeling “Huckleberry Finn.” They both smile at one another, as if they are sharing a common bond. (Slavery, of course, was still legal in states below the Mason-Dixon Line in 1857).
The ad ends with Busch meeting Eberhard Anheuser and this: “When nothing stops your dream, this is the beer we’ll raise.” Cue the violins.