Super Bowl ads played it safer this year, using light humor

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Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 2:18 pm, Thu Jun 5, 2014.

NEW YORK (AP) — Advertisers played it safe in Super Bowl ads this year.

There were no crude jokes. Sexual innuendo was kept to a minimum. Uncomfortable story lines were all but missing. In their place were much more sedate ads.

From the light humor of RadioShack poking fun at its image with '80s icons like Teen Wolf and the California raisins to a Coca-Cola ad showcasing diversity by singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages, it was a softer night of advertising.

With a 30-second spot costing around $4 million and more than 108 million viewers expected to tune in to the championship game, it was crucial for advertisers to make their investment count. The shocking ads in years past have not always been well received. ('s ad that featured a long, up-close kiss came in at the bottom of the most popular ads.)

So this year, advertisers went out of their way to showcase more family-friendly themes: socially conscious statements, patriotic messages and light humor.

“Advertisers are getting attention, but they're not trying to go over the top,” said David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer for digital ad agency MRY. “A lot of brands were going with the safer ads from the start.”

The safer ads had a mixed reaction among viewers. Keith Harris, who was watching the Super Bowl with friends and family in Raleigh, N.C., said he appreciated the safer ads. “The ads are less funny, but it's easier to watch the Super Bowl with your family,” he said.

But Paul Capelli, who lives in West Chester, Pa., found most of the ads to be dull: “The best spots were like a Peyton Manning-to-Wes Welker pass play: They were there, but too few, and those that connected left you wanting something a bit more spectacular.”


Many advertisers played it safe by promoting a cause or focusing on sentimental issues.

Chevrolet's ad showed a couple driving through the desert in remembrance of World Cancer Day. Bank of America turned its ad into a virtual video for singing group U2's new single “Invisible” to raise money for an AIDS charity. The song is a free download on iTunes for 24 hours after the game, and Bank of America will donate $1 each time it is downloaded to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

Meanwhile, a Microsoft ad focused on how its technology helps people. The ad is narrated by Steve Gleason, a former pro football player who is living with ALS. He uses a Surface Pro running Tobii's Eye Gaze technology to speak.

And an Anheuser-Busch “Hero's Welcome” ad was an ode to U.S. soldiers. The spot showed how Anheuser-Busch helped prepare a big celebration that included a parade with Clydesdales as a surprise for a soldier returning from Afghanistan.


Many advertisers took the safe route by playing up their Americana roots.

Coca-Cola showcased America's diversity with a spot that showed scenes of natural beauty and families of different diversities as “America the Beautiful” was sung in different languages.

Chrysler debuted a two-minute ad starring Bob Dylan, who discusses the virtues of having cars built in Detroit.

“Let Germany brew your beer. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car,” Dylan says in the ad.

Barbara Lippert, ad critic at, said the ads were an attempt by companies to connect with viewers on a more personal level. “We want to be able to feel through all these screens and through all the hype there's a human element, and in the end we're all human,” Lippert said.


Jokes were also a lot tamer this year in Super Bowl ads. “A few years ago we had a lot of physical slapstick; this year, there's a lot less of that — less outright use of seniors and animals are still alive and well,” said Berkowitz, the advertising expert.

This year, advertisers that typically go with crude humor and scantily-clad women toned it down. Bud Light, for instance, had an ad using hidden cameras taking a non-actor on an adventure.'s ad showed it helping a small-business owner quit her job, and the Doritos spot featured a kid playing a joke on a man by making him think a box is a time machine so that he could steal his Doritos. “Women were fed up and parents were fed up and advertisers listened,” said's Lippert.

Stephen Colbert appeared in a pair of 15-second ads for Wonderful Pistachios. In one he predicted the nuts would sell themselves because “I'm wonderful, they're wonderful.” He was back a few seconds later covered in bright green branded messages because the nuts hadn't sold out in 30 seconds.

Another light-humored ad came from RadioShack. The consumer electronics retailer poked fun at its own image by showing 1980s pop culture figures with a voiceover: “The '80s called, they want their store back. It's time for a new RadioShack.”

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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