NEW YORK — Almost everyone seemed relieved that the first cold-weather Super Bowl played outdoors was not an ice bowl. As for the advertising extravaganza that took place during the game, it turned out to be a nice bowl.
Most of the commercials that Fox broadcast nationally during Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday sought to invoke fuzzy feelings that would warm the cockles of consumer hearts, if not MetLife Stadium. The television and social media audiences were exhorted repeatedly to forget their troubles and put on a smiley face.
A Heinz ketchup commercial by Cramer-Krasselt encouraged consumers to hum, “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and concluded, “Where there’s happy, it has to be Heinz.” The queen of nice, Ellen DeGeneres, was the star of a spot by R/GA for Beats Music in which she and a menagerie of terpsichorean animals “all danced happily ever after.”
In one spot for GoDaddy, once the supremo of Super Bowl sleaze, a singer warbled in “a hap, hap, happy way” about a “beauteous day,” and in the other, the company helped a woman achieve a dream of starting her own business. Axe, another brand with a sex-drenched past, ran a commercial by Bartle Bogle Hegarty for a new Axe Peace men’s grooming line that took nice to a noble — or Nobel — level, offering a paean to world peace.
There were nostalgic shout-outs to the 1980s and 1990s from brands like CarMax, by Silver & Partners; Dannon Oikos, by Poptent and Vinizius/Y&R; and, most effectively, Radio Shack, by GSD&M. There were feel-good anthems promoting diversity and inclusion from, among others, Cheerios, by Saatchi & Saatchi New York; Coca-Cola, by Wieden & Kennedy; and Intuit, which celebrated girl power in an ad by RPA for GoldieBlox, the winner of a contest sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks to award a small business a Super Bowl spot.
There were also singing Muppets, promoting Toyota; two commercials for T-Mobile featuring a nice guy who finished last, Tim Tebow; a schmaltzy spot pairing a puppy with a pony, for Budweiser, which was a standout hit online before the game; and enough star-spangled salutes to small towns, soldiers and products like the Chrysler 200, promoted by a patriotic Bob Dylan, and WeatherTech, “proudly made in America,” to fill another Norman Rockwell museum.
Even when the advertisers tried to go to the dark side, there was a sweetish tone. The British villains in a commercial for Jaguar were, to borrow a lyric from the Shangri-Las, good-bad but not evil; the worst crime they seemed guilty of was speeding.
And the villain in a commercial by BBDO only wanted to treat his henchman to bowls of ice cream topped with peanut M&M’s. “Wait, what?” says the hero, the M&M’s character Yellow, but you get the feeling the bad guy will not remember to dismember him.
Some nice commercials sought balance by adding grit to the grins. The Heinz commercial ended with a flatulence joke. A spot by Argonaut for Volkswagen — inspired by a line about angel wings from a heartwarming Hollywood holiday perennial, “It’s a Wonderful Life” — finished with a jape about rainbows emerging from posteriors.
Still, the prevailing tenor was more rainbows or roses than dog bites or bee stings. The primary reason for the nicer approach seemed to be a backlash against Super Bowl commercials deemed sexist, like previous GoDaddy spots, or too snarky, like spots in the game in 2011 for Groupon and HomeAway. Both companies were forced to apologize for their spots, and re-edit them, in the face of complaints.
The gentler Super Bowl ads are also a reaction to Super Bowl commercials that were replete with crude sight gags and bathroom humor. The worst offender was Anheuser-Busch, which during the 2004 Super Bowl ran spots for Budweiser and Bud Light beers featuring characters like a crotch-biting dog and a flatulent horse.
The difference between then and now could not be starker. The commercials on Sunday presented Budweiser as the brew of reunion, whether helping a returning soldier receive a hero’s welcome or keeping a puppy and a pony together.