Ad­ver­tis­ing: At this year’s Su­per Bowl, hu­mor and sex are out and in­spi­ra­tion is in

Ad­ver­tis­ers are play­ing it safe this year. By Gerry Smith

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS -

Re­mem­ber watch­ing the Su­per Bowl l ast year when t hat Na­tion­wide ad came on? It fea­tured a boy with tou­sled hair— so cute, right? And then the boy ex­plained that he would never ride a bike, travel the world, or marry, be­cause he was killed in a pre­ventable home in­jury. The de­press­ing spot gen­er­ated so much back­lash that the com­pany is­sued a state­ment say­ing it in­tended “to start a con­ver­sa­tion, not

sell in­sur­ance.” The ad started a con­ver

sa­tion, for sure, get­ting mocked mer­ci­lessly on Twit­ter: @KenJen­nings: “The Sea­hawks haven’t com­pleted a pass but on the plus side I haven’t killed any of my kids”; @Dan­Grazia­noE­SPN: “No one in the Na­tion­wide ad­ver­tis­ing meet­ing put up their hand and went, ‘Let’s sleep on this?’”

De­spite its poor ex­e­cu­tion, the ad was part of a trend to­ward longer com­mer­cials t hat pull on our heart­strings—one that many ad­ver­tis­ers are ex­pected to ex­pand on this year, mak­ing emo­tional ap­peals to our bet­ter an­gels and aban­don­ing hu­mor and sex. Col­gate will en­cour­age view­ers to save wa­ter while brush­ing their teeth. An­heuser-Busch In­Bev plans to in­tro­duce an ad cam­paign that pro­motes equal pay for women with this year’s Bud Light spot; last year the brand’s “Up f or What­ever” ads were crit­i­cized f or be­ing t one- deaf to sex­ual as­sault. And GoDaddy, which made its name by push­ing the bound­aries of de­cency in pre­vi­ous cham­pi­onships, won’t air an ad dur­ing this year’s game for the first time in more than a decade. This is lead­ing in­dus­try ex­ecs to ask: Has the Su­per Bowl gone soft? Ad­ver­tis­ers “have been ef­fec­tively neutered,” says Ian Schafer, founder of the Deep Fo­cus agency.

Al­though not all brands have dis­closed their plans, most are likely to fall in line. Last year two of the most pop­u­lar ads were a McDon­ald’s spot that fea­tured cus­tomers pay­ing for meals with hugs and one from Al­ways, the fem­i­nine prod­ucts maker, urg­ing girls to be con­fi­dent. Com­mer­cials with sex­ual over­tones have de­clined from 20 per­cent of the spots to 6 per­cent in the past two years: The big game is now “a fam­ily-ori­ented event,” and view­ers no longer tol­er­ate ob­jec­ti­fy­ing women, says Peter Daboll, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of an­a­lyt­ics firm Ace Metrix. And since 2010, the per­cent­age of ads deemed “hu­mor­ous” has dropped, from 71 per­cent to 49 per­cent, while the share of those con­sid­ered “in­spi­ra­tional” has risen, from 2 per­cent to 22 per­cent.

This year ad­ver­tis­ers may be even more con­ser­va­tive given grow­ing ten­sion about race re­la­tions and other na­tional con­cerns. “There’s a lot of sen­si­tive is­sues fac­ing the coun­try right now,” says Ti­mothy Calkins, a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at North­west­ern’s Kel­logg School of Man­age­ment. “Ad­ver­tis­ers are go­ing to work very hard to stay away from that.”

The con­ser­va­tive ap­proach un­der­scores how much is at stake. Ad­ver­tis­ers are pay­ing CBS about $5 mil­lion for a 30-se­cond spot dur­ing the Feb. 7 game be­tween the Den­ver Bron­cos and the Carolina Pan­thers. They’re will­ing to spend big be­cause it’s one of the few events that still draw a mas­sive live au­di­ence—about 114 mil­lion peo­ple watched last year, the largest au­di­ence in TV his­tory. Of course, play­ing it safe can also make it harder to stand out. “When you have one in­spi­ra­tional ad, that’s great,” Daboll says. “But when you have 12 in a Su­per Bowl, it kind of de­feats the pur­pose.” With the game’s view­ers span­ning dif­fer­ent ages, gen­ders, and political per­sua­sions, it’s hard to make a com­mer­cial that ap­peals to ev­ery­one. So al­most ev­ery year, one brand sparks con­tro­versy. Two years ago, Coca-Cola had peo­ple of var­i­ous eth­nic back­grounds singing Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful in their na­tive lan­guages. The ad back­fired in some quar­ters, and peo­ple tweeted with the hash­tag #SpeakAmer­i­can. Last year it was Na­tion­wide. So all brands have to do this year is not kill kids, and they should be fine. <BW>

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