Foot-Washing -- And Other Unexpected Ad Activities


Unexpectedly entering the realm of the political, this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup included a “what-the-hell-was-that?” commercial for presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

But an array of advertisers also laid down the $7 million to wade into the waters of that other hot-button topic, religion.

As a result, Jesus was busy that night, appearing for real in one campaign. Another spot highlighted his practice of foot-washing.

In the first, a calming 30-second spot for Hallow, a Catholic meditation app, the former “Boogie Nights” star Mark Wahlberg called for a collective prayer, with actor Jonathan Roumie as Jesus.

It was direct and hardly controversial -- unlike the two spots referencing Jesus as part of the inspired and visually arresting “He Gets Us” campaign.



One showed a series of contemporary folks washing each other's feet, like outside a family planning center. It also included a Mr. Rogers like-iconic scene showing a black man and a white man sharing a foot bath.

"Jesus didn't teach hate. He washed feet,” said the tagline.

The other spot focused on the feel-good, Bible inspired notions of love and neighborliness.

Both were the work of the newly formed nonprofit group Come Near, backed by politically conservative groups, some of whose views tend to counter the inclusiveness and compassion preached by the spots.

A contradictory combination of message and financial backing, the work also elicited public pushback over the use of what looked like AI imagery to sell Christ.

However, it turns out the beatific, otherworldly, illuminated images were not AI-generated, but the work of fine art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten, a talented human.

In another ad referencing religion,  “Decide for Yourself”  targeted the Scientology-curious, displaying all the usual rhythms and beats we’ve seen in previous Scientology spots. It aired regionally but made it onto the list of YouTube’s Top 10 most-watched commercials.

Finally, in the first Super Bowl appearance from the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, founded two years ago by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a spot called “Silence” tackles the issue of hate.

The foundation was started in 2022 to create messages to counter a rash of antisemitic incidents in the culture, including provocative comments from music artist Kanye West that had inflamed the internet.

Unfortunately, antisemitic sentiment and activity has only skyrocketed since then. Following the Oct. 7th attack on Israel, and the ensuing war in Gaza, the number of hate crimes toward both Muslims and Jews has soared.

“For us, the importance of being able to get that message out, to deliver that action on the largest scale and the largest stage possible, was critical,” Tara Levine , the president of the foundation, told the Wall Street Journal.

It was a good move, as it turns out that this year’s Super Bowl broadcast broke all viewership records, attracting more than 123 million viewers.

At first, I found it surprising that the creative team chose to focus on Clarence B. Jones, now 93, who helped Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. write the “I Have a Dream” speech given at the March on Washington in 1963.

I worried that using Jones and Martin Luther King might stumble into the messy area of appropriation.  As it turns out, the idea of speaking out against all forms of hate, both racial and religious, makes the commercial more inclusive and powerful.

The opener shows Jones, who looks more 65 than 93, in his book-lined study, saying “Sometimes I imagine what I’d write today for my dear friend Martin…”

He continues: “I’d remind people that all hate thrives on one thing: silence. The people who will change the nation are those who speak out.”

Through the device of an old-fashioned film projector sending images to a screen, we see a burning cross melt into a burning swastika.  Images build emotionally to a snuffed-out candle and tearing eye, which reminded me of Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” painting.

The ad then switches to modern-day shots of the kind of activism the foundation is promoting, including a shot of people painting over a wall of anti-Muslim graffiti and carrying placards bearing the message “Stand up to Hate.”

“When we stand up to silence, we stand up to hate,” Jones says in the end.

It’s a bigger message for all Americans, especially non-Jews, done in a familiar advertising vernacular, airing on the largest stage there is. Amen. 

A good message to come out of the ads this year: More foot-washing, less brainwashing.

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