NEW YORK (AP) — Call it Cute Bowl.
Adorable is the name of the game this year as Super Bowl advertisers try to grab your attention. That means lots of “cute” story lines, including a family that’s expecting a new baby and a horse that forms a long-lasting bond with a puppy.
The saccharine spots are partly a result of more family-friendly brands like Cheerios and Heinz advertising this year. At the same time, fewer startups that tend to have more provocative commercials are in the advertising game this year.
The trend also is a sign of the times. After widespread criticism of more racy or gross-out ads in recent years, companies are being more careful not to offend the more than 108 million viewers who are expected to tune in on Sunday. That’s increasingly important given their large investment A 30-second Super Bowl spot goes an estimated $4 million.
“People want nostalgia and fun and escape,” said Barbara Lippert, a columnist at Mediapost, trade publication for the media industry.
There won’t be any close-up tongue kisses in Godaddy’s ad. Nor will there be half-naked women running around in the Axe body spray spot. And Gangnam Style dancing will be missing from the Wonderful Pistachios commercial.
In their place? Fully-clothed women, well-known celebs and more product information.
“We’re seeing sophistication come to the Super Bowl,” says Kelly O’Keefe, a professor of brand strategy at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Not long ago, almost everything seemed to be about beer or bros or boobs.”
Companies that typically go for ads with shock value are toning them down as they try to get the most out of the estimated $4 million that 30-second Super Bowl spots cost this year.
Experts say companies are using the ads to build their image, rather than just grab attention for one night. Additionally, although the old adage asserts that “sex sells,” experts say companies realize that watchers have grown bored with sophomoric humor and other obvious shock tactics.
“You can’t really shock people visually anymore,” says ad critic and Mediapost columnist Barbara Lippert. “So, this year people are being more creative.”
NO MORE KISSES
Godaddy.com, a web-hosting company, has made a name for itself for years with racy Super Bowl ads. But it’s changing its tune after last year’s Super Bowl spot showed an uncomfortably long, close-up kiss between super model Bar Rafaeli and a bespectacled computer geek.
The ad drew widespread criticism on social media. It also was deemed one of the “least effective” ads by Ace Metrix, which measures ads’ effectiveness. And it ranked last on USA Today’s annual ad meter.
This year, Godaddy is focusing on its products. And women are being portrayed as “smart, successful small business owners,” says Barb Rechterman, Godaddy’s chief marketing officer.
In one ad, released last week, spokeswoman Danica Patrick, a racecar driver, wears a muscle suit as she runs down the street with a growing crowd of other muscular people. The crowd heads for a spray tanning business owned by a woman, who says: “It’s go time.”
SEX DOESN’T SELL?
Unilever also is changing its approach. The company’s Axe body spray typically plays up sex, including last year’s Super Bowl ad that showed a bikini-clad woman being rescued from drowning by a hunky woman.
The ad, which has 5.8 million views on YouTube.com after a year, ranked in the bottom 10 ads on USA Today’s Ad Meter.
This year, to introduce its “Peace” fragrance, Axe’s ad depicts several seemingly militaristic scenes in different countries that end up with couples embracing. The ad, which already has 3.5 million views on YouTube, says: “Make Love Not War.”
Matthew McCarthy, Axe senior director of brand development, says that even though the ad is more sophisticated than previous efforts. “We’re doing something that surprises people,” he says.
PLAYING THE CELEBRITY GAME
The ad for Wonderful Pistachios also might surprise watchers. Experts say when the nut brand, which is owned by Roll International, debuted at last year’s Super Bowl, it made a typical rookie mistake: Jumping on a fad.
The ad featured Psy, a one-hit wonder from Korea whose single “Gangnam Style” and an accompanying dance were smash hits at the time. But the ad — like Psy — was quickly forgotten. The ad ranked 28 out of 54 on the USA Today Ad Meter.
This year, the company enlisted comedian Stephen Colbert, who’s more well-known and established. “We wanted to raise it to a new level with a celebrity who really had a connection with folks out there,” says Marc Seguin vice president of marketing for Paramount Farms, the unit of Roll that makes the nuts.
The ad will start a year-long campaign with Colbert. “Colbert’s image is smarter and more inventive than the Gangham-style dance,” says Mediapost.com columnist Lippert.
Here are five “cute” commercials to watch for:
(1) Anheuser Busch’s “Puppy Love” ad shows its iconic Clydesdales bonding with a cute Labrador puppy. The two try desperately to reconnect with each other after their first meeting.
(2) Cheerios is showcasing the same biracial little girl and her parents that were in another ad that debuted last year. The company faced racist comments online when last year’s ad was rolled out, but says the overwhelming response was positive.
So Cheerios is bringing the family back in its first Super Bowl ad. In the spot, the father tells his daughter that they’re going to have an addition to the family, a baby boy. Then, the little girl strongly suggests they also get a puppy.
“We just fell in love with this family and the big game provided another opportunity to tell a story about family love,” says Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios.
(3) CarMax’s “Slow Clap” Super Bowl ad shows denizens of a small town congratulating a car buyer with a slow clap. The company also re-enacted the ad for an online video using only puppies that’s called “Slow Bark.”
(4) Toyota enlists a carful of Muppets singing a “We Ain’t Got No Room for Boring” to promote its Highlander SUV.
(5) One of Coca-Cola’s two Super Bowl ads features a boy who makes a surprise play in a little league football game and runs to make a touchdown. He then keeps running until he gets to Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers play. A groundskeeper offers him a Coke.
“We go with the story that feels the best for Coke at the right time,” says Katie Bayne, Coke’s president, North America Brands.