NEW YORK: Advertisers played it safe in the American football championship Super Bowl commercials this year.
There were no crude jokes, sexual innuendo was kept to a minimum and uncomfortable scenes were missing on a whole.
In their place were much more sedate ads. RadioShack poked fun at its image by starring ’80s icons like Teen Wolf in its commercial, for instance, while Coca-Cola showcased people of different ethnicities in its spot.
With a 30-second Super Bowl commercial fetching $4 million and more than 108 million viewers tuned in to the championship game this year, it was crucial for advertisers to make their investment count.
But the shocking ads in previous years have not always been well received (GoDaddy.com’s commercial that featured a long, up-close kiss was at the bottom of the most popular ad lists in 2013.) So this year, advertisers went out of their way to use more family friendly themes: socially conscious statements, patriotic messages and light humor.
“Advertisers are getting attention but they’re not trying to go over the top,” said David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer for digital ad agency MRY. “A lot of brands were going with the safety from the start.”
Viewers had a mixed reaction to the commercials. Keith Harris, who was watching the Super Bowl with friends and family in Raleigh, N.C., said he appreciated the safer ads. “The ads are less funny, but it’s easier to watch the Super Bowl with your family,” he said.
But Paul Capelli, who lives in West Chester, PA, found most of the ads to be dull: “The best spots were like a Payton Manning-to-Wes Welker pass play – they were there, but too few and those that connected left you wanting something a bit more spectacular.”
Many advertisers played it safe by promoting a cause or focusing on sentimental issues.
Chevrolet’s ad showed a couple driving through the desert in remembrance of World Cancer Day. And Bank of America turned its ad into a virtual video for U2’s new single “Invisible” to raise money for an AIDS charity. The song will be a free download on iTunes for 24 hours following the game, and Bank of America will donate $1 to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS for each time it is downloaded.
Meanwhile, a Microsoft commercial focused on how its technology helped people in different ways. The ad is narrated by Steve Gleason, a former pro football player who is living with ALS. He uses the company’s Surface Pro running Tobii’s eye gazer technology to speak.
And an Anheuser-Busch “Hero’s Welcome” ad was an ode to U.S. soldiers. The spot showed how the brewery helped prepare a large celebration that included a parade with its signature Clydesdales as a surprise for a soldier newly returned from Afghanistan.
Many advertisers took the safe route by playing up Americana roots.
Coca-Cola’s ad featured scenes of natural beauty and families of different backgrounds. The tune of “America the Beautiful” could be heard in different languages in the spot.
Chrysler had a two-minute ad starring music legend Bob Dylan discussing the virtues of having cars built in Detroit, a theme the car maker has stuck with in previous ads with rapper Eminem and actor Clint Eastwood.
“Let Germany brew your beer. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car,” Dylan said in the commercial.
Barbara Lippert, ad critic at MediaPost, said the commercials were an attempt by companies to connect with viewers on a more personal level. “We want to be able to feel through all these screens and through all the hype there’s a human element and in the end were all human,” Lippert said.
Not everyone was a fan. “I didn’t like it very much,” said Crystal Booker, who lives in Rock Hill, S.C., about the Chrysler ad in particular. “It was nostalgic, but nothing that I hadn’t seen before.”
Jokes were also tamer. “A few years ago we had a lot of physical slapstick, this year there’s a lot less of that; less outright use of seniors, and animals are still alive and well,” said Berkowitz, with digital ad agency MRY.
But this year, advertisers that typically go with more crude humor toned it down. GoDaddy.com’s ad, for instance, showed it helping a small-business owner quit her job. “Women were fed up, and parents were fed up, and advertisers listened,” MediaPost’s Lippert said.
Other advertisers went with light humor as well. There were mini sitcom reunions: In an ad for Dannon Oikos yogurt, the “Full House” cast reunited. And “Seinfeld” alums Jerry, George and even Newman returned to Tom’s diner in New York City for an ad for Jerry Seinfield’s show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
Stephen Colbert appeared in a pair of 15-second ads for Wonderful Pistachios. In one, he predicted the nuts would sell themselves because “I’m wonderful, they’re wonderful.” He was back a few seconds later covered in bright green branded messages because the nuts hadn’t sold out in 30 seconds.
Another light-humored ad came from RadioShack, which featured 1980s pop culture figures including Teen Wolf, Chucky, Alf and Hulk Hogan, destroying a store and a voiceover that said: “The ’80s called, they want their store back. It’s time for a new RadioShack.”