NEW YORK (AP) – Americans weary of a seemingly endless barrage of political news may be looking for a respite as they settle in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
They won’t get it, although the real-world interruption should at least be brief.
For what may be the first time, national politics will invade the one of the biggest TV events of the year. Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg and President Donald Trump have shelled out millions to broadcast campaign ads during the Big Game, when nearly 100 million viewers are expected to tune into Fox.
The political intrusion may have been inevitable. Not only is the U.S. in the middle of a presidential impeachment trial, Super Bowl Sunday falls directly before the Iowa caucuses on Monday and the State of the Union address by President Trump on Tuesday.
In good news for the weary, however, those ads will likely be the exception of the night. Most brands are taking extra care to steer clear of politics, instead aligning themselves with celebrities, hit songs, and nostalgia to guarantee the widest appeal possible while avoiding potentially divisive territory.
â€œPeople are just fatigued with the polarization of society,â€ said Peter Daboll, CEO of Ace Metrix, which measures advertising effectiveness. â€œAdvertisers are trying to take a little more centrist approach.â€
WILL POLITICS STEAL THE SHOW?
Bloomberg released his ad on Thursday. It focuses on gun violence and portrays Bloomberg as someone willing to take on the gun lobby.
The Trump campaign released one of two 30-second ads that touts wage growth and lower unemployment rates. “The best is yet to come,” Trump says in the ad.
The very presence of national campaign ads during the Super Bowl is unprecedented, said Charles Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University. January is usually too early for national politics, given that the presidential election isn’t until November. But this year, â€œtaking out a Super Bowl ad in this context can be viewed as a show of strength or signal of confidence,â€ he said.
Most marketers, however, are taking great pains to not allude to the current political climate. Amazon is one exception, although its spot only makes oblique references to national affairs. In it, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi imagine life in different time periods before the Alexa voice assistant; in the ad, a newsboy says his newspaper has â€œfake newsâ€ and a Richard Nixon-like character asks his secretary to remind him to delete his tapes.
Those who avoid politics will likely fare better this year, said Kim Whitler, a professor at the University of Virginiaâ€™s Darden School of Business. â€œGearing up for a national election, I think people are just exhausted from the heaviness of the news,â€ she said. â€œThis is that moment of escape when people are looking to have a break from news.â€
ALL THE STARS COME OUT
Brands are betting that seeing their favorite celebrities in ads will unite Americans this year. While celebrities are always a staple in Super Bowl ads, this year most advertisers seem to have shelled out for at least two stars if not four or five for their ad efforts.
â€œThereâ€™s complete celebrity overload,â€ said Terence Scroope, vice president of Insights at ad data firm Unruly.
A Hyundai ad pokes gentle fun at the Boston accent. â€œCaptain Americaâ€ star Chris Evans, â€œA Quiet Placeâ€ star John Krasinski, Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch and former Boston Red Sox David Ortiz discuss a â€œremote smart parking assist featureâ€ in exaggerated Boston accents, ultimately shortening it to â€œsmaht pahk” in Bostonese.
Michelob Ultra has actor and wrestler John Cena coaching Jimmy Fallon as he tries to work out. TV host and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen and her husband, musician John Legend, define â€œyoung luxuryâ€ in an ad for Genesis, the luxury car brand spun off by Hyundai. Mountain Dew remakes â€œThe Shiningâ€ with Walter White himself – Bryan Cranston of â€œBreaking Bad” – chasing Tracee Ellis Ross of â€œBlack-ishâ€ around a deserted hotel, though only to hawk the new Mountain Dew Zero Sugar.
â€œItâ€™s almost celebrity for celebrityâ€™s sake,â€ Scroope said.
POP CULTURE NOSTALGIA
Several ads also aim to play on peopleâ€™s affection for pop culture and hit songs.
Audi, for instance, has â€œGame of Thronesâ€ star Maisie Williams belt out Disneyâ€™s â€œLet it Goâ€ as she navigates a steamy day and bumper to bumper traffic to promote Audi’s e-tron electric vehicles.
Doritos uses MC Hammerâ€™s 30-year-old classic â€œU Canâ€™t Touch Thisâ€ to market its new Cheetos Popcorn brand. And Pepsi highlights a black soda can with the Rolling Stones anthem â€œPaint it Black,â€ updated by performers Missy Elliott and H.E.R.
Lighthearted and even juvenile humor is also back in a big way. In Little Caesarâ€™s first Super Bowl ad, pandemonium reigns at the Sliced Bread headquarters run by â€œThe Officeâ€ star Rainn Wilson after someone says Little Caesarâ€™s pizza delivery is the best thing â€œsince sliced bread.â€ An ad for Reeseâ€™s Take 5 candy bar uses visual gags for people who havenâ€™t heard of the product. It shows office workers who are literally â€œunder a rock,â€ â€œborn yesterday,â€ â€œraised by wolvesâ€ and have their â€œhead in the sand.â€ Cue groans here.
â€œAdvertisers realize that people are just exhausted and are just playing it safe,â€ said Steve Merino, chief creative director of ad agency Aloysius Butler & Clark. â€œTheyâ€™re doing some lighthearted stuff. America needs it right now.”