CSR Delivers Super Bowl Ad Touchdown

CSR-Super-Bowl-AdBeyond the historic Philadelphia Eagles win, and the watercooler conversation about whether M&M’s or Bud Knight was the funniest TV commercial (and don’t get us started on the #SelfieKid memes), 2018 might just go down as the year of the CSR Super Bowl — and be a lightening rod for a whole new era of paid-for-media driven corporate social responsibility messages.

While the throaty roars have abated, and cackles of laughter may have long since died down, perhaps the commercials that linger most in recent memory are those that were more thought-provoking, authentic, sincere, and aligned with supporting a socially conscious issue vs. selling products.

According to USA Today in its Ad Meter poll, around one in every five commercials had at least some sort of social, environmental, or purposeful conscientiousness. Commercials like Budweiser “Stand by You,” Toyota “Good Odds,” and Verizon “Answering the Call” all ranked in the top 10 of commercials overall. And interestingly, for what I think is the first time ever, the USA Today Ad Meter poll published a Super Bowl Watch 5 list of specifically socially-conscious messages.

What this represents is a significant change in Super Bowl ad content, and perhaps the beginning of a major cultural shift in what companies are thinking about. Going back to Super Bowl 2016, AB InBev is perhaps one of the first major consumer-facing companies in recent time to go socially-conscious with Helen Mirren as a “notoriously frank and uncensored British lady” calling out the blatant stupidity of irresponsible drinking.

Last year, AB InBev upped the ante by tapping into issues around diversity with its immigration story, while Audi also joined the socially-conscious discourse as outward proponents of equal pay for equal work through the lens of a father-daughter relationship.

This year, AB InBev did it again with Budweiser and its disaster relief efforts to provide water to those in need, and Stella Artois with a commitment to providing clean drinking water in impoverished areas of Africa. When you contrast these to other types of messages that AB InBev has historically aired in the Super Bowl – think back to the Bud Lizard “What’s Up” or even the Bud Light Hawk “Get Down!” – it’s easy to see an emerging trend toward social responsibility.

But does this suggest a change of heart by brand and reputation experts at major companies, or is this just a whim of opportunity where savvy marketers are trying new and emotionally appealing (or sneaky) ways to promote their products? What do these companies championing morally conscious pursuits know that others don’t?

Recent trends are more likely to recognize changing sentiment among the General Public, where audiences care less about the products and services that companies deliver and more about the values of the enterprise that stands behind the products it manufactures. This is not about paying lip service to a greater sense of purpose, but rather a commitment to making something other than money – making the world a better place to live.

In fact, according to our RepTrak® data in 2017, we have identified that CSR alone accounts for more than 40% of the weight of reputation of any company, and so it’s no coincidence that many organizations have decided to rally behind social, human interest, and environmental causes. And it appears that companies who are committed to supporting a CSR agenda are those that are gaining in reputation and marketplace success.

To support this phenomenon, we looked at five companies who supported the Super Bowl this year with CSR inclined messaging and compared their changes in RepTrak® scores in 2017 vs. 2016. What’s fascinating, is that not only did these companies gain in reputation, but they also drove higher levels of support – including purchase intent. As evidenced from the data chart below, the intent to purchase from these companies increased in a range between 3-16%.

US RepTak® Study: Comparing Purchase Intent 2016 vs. 2017


What is this telling us about the potential for CSR?

These results might be an early indicator that by the 2019 Super Bowl, the stakes on social, human interest, and environmental issues might further increase. But at a minimum and over the short-term, it would certainly suggest that it’s time for every company to rethink its corporate narrative for the year ahead. After all, it might just help you to score with a higher percentage of consumers and help you win vs. your competition.


Stephen Hahn-Griffiths
Executive Partner, Chief Research Officer
Reputation Institute