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Super Bowl ads go for the heart

The game plan for the advertising blitz during Super Bowl XLIX was simple: Go straight for the heart.

Many of the commercials during NBC’s national broadcast of Sunday’s game sought to tug at viewers’ heart strings rather than make them burst out laughing. The offerings were not devoid of the usual mix of celebrities, animals and slapstick comedy, but ads celebrating fatherhood, happiness over hatred and public proclamations of love dominated. “Finally, a more serious Super Bowl with a high dose of humanity on display,” said Adam Tucker, president of WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather advertising in New York.

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A Budweiser ad in which the Clydesdale horses helped rescue a puppy and take it home was a favorite even before the game.

A number of advertisers essentially rebranded Super Bowl Sunday into another celebration of Father’s Day. A spot for Unilever’s Dove Men + Care depicted a series of children, from toddlers to adults, calling out “Dad” and “Daddy” from a highchair, monkey bars and the dance floor at a wedding reception. “What makes a man stronger?” the ad asked. “Showing that he cares.” Ads for the automakers Nissan and Toyota also lauded fatherhood.

Mothers were not left out. A commercial for McDonald’s opened with a cashier telling a customer that instead of handing over money for his hash browns and coffee, he could pay by calling his mother and telling her he loved her. The spot kicked off a promotion at the fast-food chain, which will randomly select customers to “Pay With Lovin’ ” rather than cash or credit starting Monday through Valentine’s Day.

A commercial for Coca-Cola sought to transform online hate into Internet happiness. The 60-second spot featured a montage of ugly online comments magically transformed into positive missives after a technician accidentally spills a bottle of Coke onto an Internet server. At one point, a middle schoolboy’s face lights up after watching a social media post change from saying, “No one Likes U,” into a message reading, “There’s no one like U.”


A Budweiser ad featured a touching story about friendship, with the Clydesdale horses helping rescue a lost puppy and return it to its home. It was posted online in the days before the game, drawing more than 42 million online views before kickoff, the most of any Super Bowl advertiser, according to measurement firm

“More and more, brands are thinking very seriously about the role they play in life,” said Jim Stengel, a business consultant who previously worked as chief marketing officer at Procter & Gamble. “Call it purpose, ideals, mission, whatever, but it is a sweeping force in marketing departments and agencies.”

Serious issues were also addressed, most prominently with the first commercial addressing domestic violence and sexual assault to be broadcast during a Super Bowl. In the ad for the advocacy group No More, a woman pretends to order pizza while on the phone with a 911 operator in an attempt to secretly signal her location and the presence of her abuser. The N.F.L., which faced several domestic abuse scandals this season, donated 30 seconds of commercial time for the ad.

A spot for Procter & Gamble’s Always feminine products, meanwhile, pleased feminists with its attempt to address the lack in confidence that often comes after girls go through puberty. The ad showed how the phrase “Like a girl” is often transformed into an insult after puberty, and featured girls doing physical things like running fast “like a girl.”

Several marketing executives said that they thought more carefully about their depiction of women in Super Bowl ads, given the controversies. Still, an ad for Carl’s Jr., the fast-food chain, that was posted online but shown only during local broadcasts of the game, was criticized for its depiction of a scantily clad woman hungry for a burger.

Some commercials ran the risk of seeming too morbid. In a Nationwide insurance ad, a boy says he will never learn to ride a bike, get “cooties,” learn to fly, travel the world or get married because he died from a preventable accident. The brand was trying to call attention to its “Make Safe Happen” program about increasing safety at home, but it seemed to strike the wrong chord with people trying to have a good time at Super Bowl parties. Viewers were quick to complain online.

Not all the ads were tear-jerkers. Candy and snack brands went for laughs. A commercial for Snickers generated attention online before the game for spoofing “The Brady Bunch.” One for Skittles, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, transported viewers into a small town where everyone has giant biceps because they arm-wrestle to settle disputes over the candy. Skittles are a favorite of the Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who was seen snacking on them during the game.

Fifteen of the advertisers were first-timers, the most since the burst of the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century. Several of the ads caused viewers to question whether the spots were real. Those rookie advertisers included Loctite, a super glue brand whose ad featured a lineup of awkward dancers, and the toenail fungus treatment Jublia. Another newcomer, the smartphone accessory maker Mophie, scored some laughs with an ad that depicted an apocalyptic-like world, created because God’s phone battery died.

An ;">ad for Fiat drew kudos. It showed a blue pill falling out of the hands of an Italian man and tumbling across rooftops, down a pipe, across tables at a cafe until it falls into the fuel tank of a Fiat 500. The pitch: that the car becomes “bigger, more powerful and ready for action.”

T-Mobile scored chuckles and online buzz with its commercial featuring Kim Kardashian making a mock-impassioned pitch about how the mounds and mounds of unused data that wireless companies take from consumers every month could be used to see her makeup, vacations and outfits. “Please, help save the data,” she implores.

Other celebrity sightings occurred in spots for Kia, which starred the actor Pierce Brosnan, and Nationwide, which had the comedian ;">Mindy Kaling. BMW showed a clip from a 1994 broadcast in which the journalists Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel had a hard time understanding the Internet. (Ms. Couric asked whether the @ symbol stood for the words about or around.) The ad jumps 21 years into the future, showing Ms. Couric and Mr. Gumbel trying to wrap their heads around the BMW all-electric i3 vehicle.

Commercial time in the broadcast went for a record $4.5 million for 30 seconds this year, with dozens of advertisers paying for the chance to capture the attention of the more than 110 million people expected to watch the game. Most advertisers have prepared complementary digital and social media promotions to try to extend the reach of their ads.

But the advertisers will vie for attention from a band of outside marketers who did not pay for Super Bowl time but are trying to ambush the competition. One is Newcastle beer, which recruited dozens of marketers to pitch in for a Super Bowl spot that will be shown online and in local markets during the game.

The other is the automaker Volvo, which decided not to buy a Super Bowl spot this year. Instead, the brand has begun an “interception” campaign and is encouraging viewers to tweet the name of someone who matters to them with the tag #volvointerception when they see any car commercial during the game for the chance to win a new Volvo.

Reproduced from The New York Times.

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