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Fox Rejects Super Bowl Ad With Immigration Theme; Another Will Air

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is Super Bowl weekend. We're hoping the Falcons and Patriots give us a good game. If not, at least we have the commercials - so many memorable moments.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Have a good one on...

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Wow, thanks, Mean Joe.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hello. Where's the beef?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Wendy's kind of beef.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

EMINEM: This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.

GREENE: A kid giving a Coke there to the Steelers' Mean Joe Greene, where's the beef was Wendy's and Eminem was for Chrysler. Now, Jose Villa works for the ad agency Sensis, and we previewed one of this year's ads with him. It's for Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser, and it depicts the journey of an immigrant, founder Adolphus Busch, from Germany to the U.S. He is just stepping off the boat.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Welcome to America.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: You're not wanted here. Go back home.

GREENE: Welcome to America, you're not wanted here, go back home - not very friendly voices in the background. What are we hearing here?

JOSE VILLA: Well, this is, you know, historical context, but it obviously resonates quite a lot with what's going on today in this country in terms of the political and the cultural discourse.

GREENE: And is that the key for Super Bowl ads, to try and capture a story that feels resonant in this moment?

VILLA: Advertising is always a bit of a reflection of the culture, as well as, in many ways, advertising shapes culture. So part of what we try to do in the advertising business is make sure that we are relevant to what's going on and can connect with people in emotional ways and obviously with topics that have a lot of emotional impact. And obviously immigration right now is one of those that's very much in that vein.

GREENE: Now, Jose Villa does say he expects some backlash for that ad. Now, there's another ad you won't see. It's from the company 84 Lumber. It reportedly shows a mother and daughter on an arduous journey approaching a border wall. The ad was rejected by Fox, which is airing the Super Bowl, and I asked Jose Villa why.

VILLA: It has to do with the sort of the political and cultural environment we're in right now. The advertisers, you know, have to sort of toe a line between, you know, marketing effectiveness and also potentially backlash. And I think that ad is an example of Fox wanting to make sure that they don't get too much blowback, particularly with what I would call sort of a broader mainstream audience.

GREENE: So there'll be some backlash from the Budweiser ad. I mean, would you have made this decision if you were Fox, take the story of a man coming into the country and being harassed but not the one that shows the image of a border wall?

VILLA: I would, if I was in their position, take all the ads unless there's something, you know, that's inappropriate for broad-family audiences. I think we live in a time right now where we kind of need to see all those different perspectives.

GREENE: Does 84 Lumber - I mean, I guess I'm curious as to why they don't have a little bit of clout where they could say, look, this is our money. Take our ad. You know, you don't - don't reject it.

VILLA: Well, it's one out of many, right? And sometimes you have to look at these things from a business perspective and what would be the cost to Fox in terms of dealing with the blowback. And they're kind of damned if they do, damned if they don't.

GREENE: Does it tell us anything about the advertising industry at this moment that we're having this conversation?

VILLA: It does. I mean, the advertising industry is dealing with all these bigger issues as well. Over the last few years, it's been changing, and there's been some sort of internal clashes within the industry in how do we better reflect the society. And you know, some would argue that now the industry's maybe going too far. You know, the pendulum has gone too far in portraying particular, you know, diverse cultures too much. And you know, you can argue that's kind of what's been happening politically and culturally in this country. So it's a bit of a microcosm of what's going on in the broader country.

GREENE: Mr. Villa, thanks so much for talking to us. We appreciate it. Enjoy the Super Bowl.

VILLA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LORD HURON'S "FOOL FOR LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.