Super Bowl ads offer simple escapism with star power

NEW YORK (AP) — Sarah Michelle Gellar makes a horror movie parody for Olay. Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker tout Stella Artois and Steve Carrell hawks Pepsi.

Star power abounds in this year’s Super Bowl ads.

Advertisers are hoping to provide some welcome distraction and entertainment as economic fears persist and the nation’s political climate remains sharply divided.

As much as this year’s Super Bowl will be a battle on the field between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, it will be a battle between advertisers over who gets the buzz — and who gets forgotten.

Celebrities are a relatively safe bet to garner goodwill from Super Bowl viewers who aren’t looking to be lectured at.

There has been a retreat from more overtly political ads that were seen during the 2017 Super Bowl from such companies as 84 Lumber and Airbnb.

“The big theme is a return to light-hearted humour,” University of Virginia professor Kim Whitler said. “There’s an acknowledgement the Super Bowl is about entertainment.”

This undated image provided by Colgate Total shows an image from the company’s 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot featuring Luke Wilson. – PHOTOS: AP
This undated screen grab from a video shows an image from Pepsi’s Bubly sparkling water brand’s 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot featuring Michael Bublé
This screen grab from video provided by Olay shows an image from the company’s 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar
This undated image provided by M&M’S shows a scene from the company’s 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot starring Christina Applegate
This screen grab from video provided by PepsiCo shows an image from the company’s 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot featuring Steve Carell, Cardi B and Lil Jon

The Super Bowl remains advertising’s biggest mass-market showcase – and one of the last remaining ones in an age of personalised ads targetted to individual interests based on data collected by Facebook, Google and other tech mammoths. Digital ads are expected to make up nearly 60 per cent of ad spending by 2020, according to eMarketer, up from about 50 per cent in 2018.

Yet a 30-second Super Bowl ad can cost more than USD5 million. More than 100 million people in the US are expected to tune in to Sunday’s game on CBS. SimpliSafe’s creative director, Wade Devers, said the home-security company is advertising during the Super Bowl for the first time because the game has “a unique audience” primed to be interested in watching the ads.

Advertisers are doing what they can to stand out — Bridges, for instance, revives his ‘The Dude’ character from The Big Lebowski — while shying away from controversy.

“It’s such a big investment. Advertisers really want to generate as much return as they can,” Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins said. “I think we’ll see a lot of humour and product-focussed advertising. A lot of advertisers are nervous about taking on big themes.”

So don’t expect any mention of the government shutdown or the debate over building a wall at the Mexican border, for example.

But safe can also mean dull.

“It will be a lackluster year,” said Kelly O’Keefe, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth’s Brandcentre. “I hope to see a few standouts, but the ads could be more mediocre than they have in a few years.”

TRIED AND TRUE

As for celebrities, always a staple in Super Bowl ads, Jason Bateman appears as an affable elevator operator to showcase Hyundai’s Shopper Assurance programme. M&M’s enlisted actress Christina Applegate, and Avocados From Mexico’s ad will feature Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth. Colgate Total’s ad features Luke Wilson as a close talker.

STRONG WOMEN

Olay will play off horror movies and the phrase ‘Killer Skin’, with an ad starring Gellar. Toyota is highlighting the perseverance of Antoinette ‘Toni’ Harris, a female football player at a California community college. And Bumble selected Serena Williams to be its spokeswoman in the dating app’s first ever Super Bowl ad.

TECH RIBBING

Michelob Ultra has robots beating humans at sports like running. But then one robot looks longingly in a diner where people are enjoying a post-workout drink. “It’s only worth it, if you can enjoy it,” an on-screen message reads.

In an ad for Pringles, a smart speaker laments not being able to taste the snack.

Amazon pokes fun at itself as celebrities from Harrison Ford to astronaut twins Mark and Steve Kelly test products that didn’t quite work out, including an electric toothbrush and a dog collar with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant.

MUSIC MANIA

The Super Bowl reportedly had trouble finding artistes to sing during the Super Bowl — singer Travis Scott agreed to perform only after the NFL agreed to donate USD500,000 to charity. But there has been no hesitation with musicians jumping into Super Bowl ads.

First time-Super Bowl advertiser Expensify created a catchy music video with rapper 2 Chainz and actor Adam Scott. The 30-second ad also features the song.

Pepsi has long enlisted musicians to help sell its drinks and snacks. For its Doritos brand, Chance the Rapper is teaming up with the Backstreet Boys to promote a new flavour. Michael Bublé will star in an ad for Pepsi’s Bubly sparkling water brand. And an ad for Pepsi itself has Carrell with rapper Lil Jon and pop singer Cardi B.

Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, has Ludacris.

SURPRISES

Although many companies released their ads online early, Villanova marketing professor Charles Taylor said some are holding back “for the potential to make a bigger splash.”