Super Bowl ad trends: Sex, goofy guys, stars and cars
By Bruce Horovitz
Madison Avenue's 2013 Super Bowl efforts can be described in two words: eye candy.
That's not necessarily a good thing.
The commercials for Super Bowl 2013 are so overloaded with eye candy — sexy models, too-cute kids, wacky animals, magical happenings and effects — that by the time folks take them all in, many viewers will feel like they just swallowed the entire bag of Halloween candy in one sitting.
No room for the chips and dip.
That, of course, won't stop an estimated 111 million viewers from watching most of the 50-some TV spots from 30-some advertisers.
A new survey by Nielsen confirms that: 91% of consumers say they are as interested in watching the commercials as the game itself. At roughly $3.8 million per 30-second spot, Super Bowl marketers are expected to easily top last year's record of $262.5 million, reports Kantar Media.
And we will test them all on Sunday in the 25th Anniversary USA TODAY Ad Meter — a consumer rating of the game's ads — to see which ad tops them all.
Meanwhile, here are the top 10 trends to track as you watch the ads:
• Cars that empower.
Maybe it's that new-car smell. Maybe it's the octane in the gasoline. Or maybe it's just Madison Avenue hyperbole on the ad world's biggest stage.
There's something about new cars in this year's Super Bowl commercials that seems to utterly embolden whoever is driving them — or even just sitting in them — to do things they never would otherwise.
Take the Audi spot. A high school kid goes dateless to the prom. Even his little sister pokes fun at him. But then his dad hands him the keys to the Audi — the hot S6 performance model — and everything magically changes. He drives to prom and brazenly pulls into the school principal's parking spot. Once on the dance floor, he bravely kisses the prom queen — even with her boyfriend (prom king) watching. OK, it costs the kid a black eye, but, heck, he drives off in his Audi with prom queen in tow.
In a Hyundai spot, a kid is moved to strategically take on the neighborhood bully.
Then, there's spunky VW. Its new commercial takes place in a dysfunctional office that has but a single, happy worker. Turns out the key to his happiness also is the key to his VW. Turns out that his happiness is contagious — so long as you sit with him in his VW.
• Sex still sells.
Sex never gets old on the Super Bowl.
It just gets weird.
Advertisers are fully aware that the single simplest way to snatch the attention of jaded male or female viewers is to show a sexy babe or dude. Or, in this year's oddest version, show a supermodel passionately kissing a computer geek.
That's what Go Daddy has in store, with Bar Refaeli, a former Sports Illustrated
swimsuit model, puckering up with chunky, totally nerdy computer guy. The story line: Go Daddy's found the perfect match of brains and beauty.
The action gets even rougher in Kia's spot, featuring a former Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, who plays a sexy robot who plasters a car-gawking dude — who leaves fingerprints on and kicks the tires of a new Forte — with a punch that sets him flying on his can.
Speed Stick gets into the act, too, with a guy at the laundromat who accidentally finds himself holding a cute stranger's yellow panties.
But the sexiest battle may be that of the Sports Illustrated
swimsuit models. In one corner, there's Go Daddy's Refaeli. In the other, there's supermodel Kate Upton, appearing in the Mercedes-Benz commercial as a hopeful dude's dream date.
Maybe next year, some savvy advertiser will coax Betty White into a bikini.
• Ads with and by you.
There was a time when Madison Avenue utterly ruled on Super Bowl Sunday. The nation's biggest and most powerful advertisers and advertising agencies used to publicly wrestle to display who could wow TV viewers by creating the one TV commercial that everyone would chat about the next morning at the water cooler.
But in a social-media age, not only is the water cooler empty, but so is the notion that consumers will idly sit by and watch whatever the advertising kingpins have to show them.
These days, many folks want to be hands-on. With an assist from the big agencies and advertisers, some people will create the ads that air Sunday — or, at the very least, choose to vote on which ads appear. This is a trend that Doritos began seven years ago with its "Crash the Super Bowl" platform that lets real people compete to create the ads that air based on online consumer voting. Once again, the chip brand has two consumer-created spots in Sunday's game.
Others, will have the chance to actually appear in — or even have their tweets included in — Super Bowl commercials. Lincoln is broadcasting a dramatization of tweets consumers submitted about their wackiest road trips. And Coca-Cola is urging fans to vote online to decide which of three commercial endings it uses in its ad. The ending to the Audi ad also was based on consumer input. And Pepsi asked people to send their photos for possible inclusion.
• Celebrity swarms.
It just wouldn't be a Super Bowl without a couple of dozen celebrities — from A- to C-list — parading in and out of the commercials.
But this go-round there's a twist: celebrity swarms. That's right, ads with celebs showing up in teams of three or more. The hope: Amid the crowd and frenzy of Super Bowl advertisers, the right celebrity might actually catch your attention.
Mercedes-Benz will flaunt three celebs: supermodel Kate Upton, singer Usher and actor Willem Dafoe.
Subway, too, loads its Super Bowl spot with familiar celebrities and jocks, including spokesman Jared Vogel, superstar quarterback Robert Griffin III and nearly a dozen other athletes.
Samsung's spot features comic actors Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Bob Odenkirk, all trying to figure what the next "big thing" is. It turns out, at least in this commercial, that the next big thing is someone who is arguably already a big thing: LeBron James. And, of course, James has a cameo in the ad.
• Weird wildlife.
There was a time when putting a puppy or cute kitty in a Super Bowl spot all but guaranteed instant payback. But Madison Avenue being Madison Avenue, well, it's rarely satisfied with what actually works.
So this Super Bowl, it seems, the domesticated, furry critters are increasingly being replaced by the undomesticated kind. Goodbye cats and dogs. Hello wolves, sabertoothed tigers, rhinos, cheetahs — and gazelles.
A Skechers spot features a guy in a pair of Skechers who manages to outrun a cheetah in order to save the gazelle that the cheetah is eyeing for dinner. And the sabertoothed tiger joins a family for breakfast in an offbeat Hyundai spot.
Don't rule out a real dinosaur showing up next year.
• Ads go long.
At $3.8 million per 30-second slot, it might seem that cost-conscious Super Bowl advertisers would all try to ram their messages into a very tight time-frame.
Not this go-round. This Super Bowl comes complete with at least two, two-minute commercials, and several full-minute spots.
Chrysler has done it before. Its two-minute spots at halftime last year featured Clint Eastwood and the year before had Eminem. The carmaker is believed to have at least one, two-minute commercial in this year's game, but is keeping mum.
Samsung, however, isn't keeping mum. Its two-minute spot, featuring three comic actors and LeBron James, is all about trying to call attention to its own coolness factor.
While the arguments for two minutes in terms of prominence and story-telling are compelling, the risks are huge. Two minutes is an enormous amount of time to capture and keep the attention of a generation more accustomed to 140-character tweets and five-second sound bites. While a 30-second dud on the Super Bowl can be a yawn, a 120-second dud can be a brand buster.
• Put up your dukes.
It might seem that there's nothing new about fists flying during the Super Bowl — particularly during the commercial breaks. After all, a fight is a fight, right?
Not this year. Some of the bigger punch-outs aren't about guys fighting guys, but about guys fighting wild animals — and women beating up dudes. These are all staged slapstick fights, of course, aimed at luring frazzled viewers to give a look.
In the Kia spot the former Miss USA as a robot basically pulverizes the guy, while in Coke's commercial, a Las Vegas showgirl beats the pants off a motorcycle dude.
Things get even weirder in a couple of spots that pit man against beast. If the Skechers ad isn't enough, there's the Axe ad in which a hunk of a lifeguard beats the be-jeebers out of a shark that is about to attack a bikini babe.
Are you watching, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?
• Name that tune.
Savvy advertisers know that on Super Bowl Sunday, it's not just what viewers will see that matters, but also what they hear. While all the commercial images can become a blur, the right music can turn heads.
Music, also, is generational. Marketers typically use it to hit the target they want. On Super Bowl Sunday, it's at the most focused. While Volkswagen, for example, is using famous YouTube rants to appeal to Millennials, it's also reaching out to Baby Boomers with a musical nod to their past: The familiar theme song to the Partridge Family Come on Get Happy
, re-created by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff.
Taco Bell, meanwhile, is setting its spot to music — but with a Spanish twist. The commercial, about ol' folks breaking out the retirement home for a night of romping, is a Spanish language version of We Are Young
Pepsi, of course, has Beyonce singing at halftime. And then there's Wonderful Pistachios, which convinced YouTube sensation Psy to pen new, nut-worthy words to his Internet hit, Gangnam Style
• Guys as goofballs.
There was a time when the guys who showed up in Super Bowl commercials were as tough as the guys on the field.
That was followed by a far different time, when the guys in the Big Game spots became touchy-feely wimps.
Now we're in yet another era: guys as goofballs.
An ad for Pepsi Next focuses on a father who's apparently more concerned with the calories in his soda than his kid's party that's destroying his home. A Kia spot features a dad who mindlessly spins an absurd tale for his kid who asked where babies come from. A Century 21 spot stars a groom who literally faints at the altar when he's told his mother-in-law will be moving in.
• Wishing and hoping.
There's apparently a new way to make dreams come true in 2013: watch the Super Bowl ads.
The theme embraced by several advertisers is the notion of one's fondest wishes being granted — almost in fairy godmother-like style.
Toyota is doing it with its "Wish Granted" spot, featuring actress Kaley Cuoco. In the ad, Cuoco tosses clouds of pixie dust that appear to make wishes come true.
Likewise, Taco Bell latches onto the trend, magically giving a group of senior citizens a very special, youth-driven night out on the town — ending up, of course, at Taco Bell.
Then, in a couple of Bud Light spots, rabid fans reach out for a magic touch to help their teams win.
But the real wishing and hoping Sunday night will be on the part of every Super Bowl advertiser who wants to achieve lightning in a bottle.
But faster than you can say poof, most will disappear.