The Magical Healing Power of Tom Brady
Super Bowl LV ended with the improbable yet inevitable result of Tom Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory over the favored Kansas City Chiefs and wunderkind Patrick Mahomes. It was one of those situations where the rational side of my brain predicted that the better team with the young, modern, incredibly talented quarterback would win easily while my gut told me that no one was going to beat Tom Brady this year.
In a year where many Super Bowl advertisers focused on the pandemic and/or need to “reunite,” there was no bigger story than Brady. More on him in a moment, but first, let’s talk about a few ads.
Still, arguably, the most influential platform in marketing and one of the few, “must see,” mainstream, tune-in now events that appeals to the vast majority of Americans regardless of political persuasion, the Super Bowl dares its advertisers to “go big.” Some do it with humor, some with celebrities, and some with targeted issues-based messaging. This year, the temptation to contribute to “healing” from the pandemic and the Trump era was too much to resist for many.
These are very hard ads to pull off. Most of the time, these patriotic/issue ads mean flag-waving and empty cliches with “regular people” staring into the camera, steely-eyed, tough and resolved to take on the future in the true American, can-do spirit. And the ads usually stink.
Like Ford’s “Finish Strong” spot. The notion of “finishing” a pandemic “strong” is a bizarre concept and the ad is what I like to call “Your brand here advertising.” Switch out Ford and replace it with Chevy – or Budweiser, Coke or nearly any other brand – and makes no difference. Same for the WeatherTech spot, which was worse. Nothing original to say and about the issues or their brands.
However, two spots from the “feel-good patriotic” genre succeeded in transcending my innate cynicism and suspicion of the genre with heartfelt, on-brand messages. The first was from Anheuser-Busch, a corporate spot that touted the emotional benefits of bonding over a beer. In addition to being strategically sound – it’s fine for a market leader to sell the entire category as it will benefit in a disproportionate way compared to its competitors, the execution was spot on. Unlike the Ford spot that spouted cliches, A-B told real human stories, one at a time, that were easy to relate to. “Cmon, let’s grab a beer” is a simple but powerful line, demonstrating the very human truth that we need each other.
Now, let’s all say it together. Bruuuuuuuuuce!
As with the A-B spot, Jeep’s Super Bowl effort was strategically sound (Jeep is an American icon of freedom in many ways) and was also executed beautifully. I don’t know how much of the copy, if any, that Bruce wrote himself, but the spot was poetic, moving and haunting. Without flag waving, the spot evinces patriotism on a very personal level, in part through the thoughtful metaphor of going straight to the very heart and physical center of the lower 48 states to a place that’s “always open” and where “everyone is accepted.” And while it disturbed me at first – which was probably the intention – the idea of the “Reunited States of America” is spot on.
But wait! Breaking news calls for a late addition to this piece. I just read in Adweek that the Jeep ad was one of the most divisive ads of the day. Reactions were roughly split in half between the the lovers and haters. Maybe we are “sunk” as a country! This unification stuff is way harder than I thought.
Which brings me back to the big story of the big game, Tom Brady.
I never liked the guy. I grew up in New York as a Giants fan primarily and a Jets fan secondarily, which cemented my spot in the Tom Brady Haters Club. Layer his politics on top of that and you’ve got a guy who is easy for me and others with similar political leanings to loathe. At the end of last season, Brady left the Patriots with the audacity to think he could waltz over to a new team at his advanced age, one that had a losing season last year, and actually help turn the franchise around. The guy can’t just retire gracefully after winning 6 Super Bowls? Does he really think he’s going to take the Bucs to the playoffs? I hated him more.
When the season started, I my attitude started to shift. I forgot about the politics and the bitter losses Brady inflicted on my teams and started to focus on his dedication, work ethic and most of all, that he still seemed to be the player he was 10 years ago. As an man of a certain age, I loved that he was still killing it at age 43 in the NFL. Still, I was conflicted. I kept asking myself, “Is it OK to root for a Republican?” It was very uncomfortable at first, but when I started focusing on the person and the positive things he stood for, despite his cozying up to Trump, the dissonance started waning.
If all Americans can’t love Tom Brady for who he is, while acknowledging he has different views than they might have, something is really wrong with us. Of course, that works for the other side too. How about a kind word for the brilliant, hard-working, full of integrity family man who became the first black president of the United States?
I can’t control what others think or what they do but I can still do the right thing, or at least what I feel is right. No doubt many of my liberal friends aren’t taking this well. But I’ll take my cues from Brady and to a lesser extent, Jeep and Anheuser-Busch. Rather than carry the anger and frustration from 2020 into the still new year, let’s reach out to others with kindness and understanding. That’s the only way minds are changed.