There were many ads run in the Super Bowl, and while each was expensive, not all were effective. Companies take a major risk when they try to advertise during the Super Bowl, as they have to accurately gauge their audience, put together the right message, and compete with a large number of other companies looking to get attention during the event. One ad that was successful during this Super Bowl was from Budweiser, as it took a stand on a major social issue and communicated the company’s values well. One of the ads that did not resonate as well as the company must have hoped came from Squarespace, a company that sells templates and designs websites for creative types. By looking at these two websites, one can get a good sense of why advertising sometimes works and why it sometimes struggles to work.
The persuasive argument in Budweiser’s ad has everything to do with the company’s values. It was a political ad in nature, even though it did not touch on the politics of the day. The company was highlighting the fact that its founder, Adolphus Busch, was actually an immigrant himself. The implication in this is that Budweiser continues to support immigrants, which has for some reason become a controversial thing to say in light of the current political climate, which itself revolves around walls and immigration bans. Budweiser is unique because the company is not looking for people to understand its produce. Budweiser is massive and well-known. The ad was designed, instead, to introduce a new side of Budweiser, showing that the company is socially conscious. This was persuasive. The ad was done in such a way that it was non-threatening. It stood for real values that could be universal, and it encouraged people to buy the beer because the company supports what may be right. Of course, with an ad like this, whether one was persuaded may be dependent upon where one stands from a political perspective.
Squarespace’s ad was designed to persuade people to build websites with the company. It did not work as well because it focused on something else. Squarespace is not a broker for domain names. However, the advertisement was all about wrestling over a domain name between a celebrity and a non-celebrity. The Squarespace brand is built around the idea that the company can help provide a creative element for consumers, to create something beautiful. By focusing on domain names, Squarespace did not persuade viewers that it is the best company to choose when putting together a creative website.
In the Budweiser ad, there was an emotional appeal made to potential customers through the rags to riches story presented. Budweiser knows that especially in America, the idea of coming in and making it is very strong rhetorically. With the strict, the advertisement focused heavily on this. In addition, it used certain imagery, including Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, which are both heavily emotional for people who associate with American values. In the Squarespace ad, there is an attempted celebrity appeal. The use of John Malkovich suggests that he supports the product. Beyond that, there is an aggression to the ad. It suggests that the company will act aggressively on behalf of clients.
Using Aristotle’s theory of rhetoric, one can see that Budweiser was focused heavily on ethos. The dramatic renderings of things that are highly emotionally charged for Americans was a means of showing that Budweiser supports those basic human values. The ad worked because the visuals and sound worked together to produce an Old World feeling about the way Budweiser operates in the modern world. The company was taking on a modern social issue, but it did not want to wade into the political waters with a direct ad like Lumber 84 did. Rather, it wanted to create an Old World vibe with its ad while still touching on a topical issue. It did this with the effective use of pathos. Squarespace’s ad attempts to use ethos to motivate its viewers, but it does not really work. In this, the use of John Malkovich was an attempted appeal to authority. Viewers are supposed to trust him to make their decision on a proper website creation service. Part of the reason this fails to work is because Malkovich is not a particularly likeable character in the ad or in the movies in which he stars. He has long been the evil character in movies, so he does not inspire trust, and the sound used in this ad—which is loud and bombastic—helps to hammer home the idea that Malkovich cannot be trusted to make this decision.
Budweiser was looking to reach the average American who likes beer and takes a middle line on the recent political issues. Budweiser knows that it has deep market penetration in a number of different segments in the US, so it was trying to reach people who may be drinking craft beer or otherwise not liking Budweiser because it is often associated with things like NASCAR or other things that are not seen as positive in upper class circles. The advertisement hit the mark from that perspective. Squarespace’s ad was directed at young people. The people who are apt to create websites are young people and tech savvy individuals. The issue with this ad is that Malkovich is the kind of actor who is much more likely to be recognized by an older demographic, which may not understand what Squarespace is in the first place. For this reason, the company’s ad had trouble hitting the mark.