Much like the Philadelphia Eagles on fourth-and-goal Sunday night, Super Bowl advertisers had to choose whether to take big risks or go the safe route. A handful of them really went for it.
PepsiCo (PEP) brought out celebrities for a lip-sync rap battle. Squarespace put Keanu Reeves on a flying motorcycle. Procter & Gamble (PG) tried a high-concept approach, a meta-commentary on advertising itself with a recurring character popping up in other famous commercials.
The Eagles’ gutsy second-quarter decision resulted in a touchdown, leading to a 41-33 upset victory over the New England Patriots. The close game, broadcast on NBC, gave the expected U.S. audience of more than 110 million a reason not to change the channel. That ensured advertisers who paid more than $5 million for 30-second spots could get their money’s worth. Here’s how some of them used that valuable airtime:
Cute animals were out of vogue this year, but celebrities were everywhere. Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage mouthed the words to a Busta Rhymes song, while Morgan Freeman rapped along to Missy Elliott, in a promotion for PepsiCo’s Doritos and Mountain Dew. A talking M&M candy turned into Danny DeVito, who asked people on the street if they wanted to eat him. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler reverse-aged himself by driving backward in a Kia.
But it was Amazon (AMZN) that made one of the biggest splashes, with an all-star cast that included Anthony Hopkins, TV chef Gordon Ramsay, rapper Cardi B, actress Rebel Wilson and Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos — a celebrity in his own right, and a pretty good actor — in a spot for the technology giant’s Echo voice-controlled speakers.
Field of Streams
With the NFL’s regular-season ratings down 10 percent this year, it was ironic that the Super Bowl was filled with ads for some of the very video services that are luring viewers away. Hulu and Amazon Prime Video each promoted new shows, and Time Warner’s HBO teased the second season of Westworld.
Netflix (NFLX) unveiled one of the night’s big surprises, an ad for The Cloverfield Paradox, a new installment of the popular horror films whose release hadn’t been expected until later this year. Instead, the movie premiered Sunday night on Netflix, giving fans an alternative if they didn’t want to stick around for NBC’s heavily promoted post-game episode of the drama This Is Us.
One of Netflix’s most recognizable stars, David Harbour of Stranger Things, also appeared in P&G’s ambitious series of Tide ads, showing that the clean clothes people wear on TV commercials are subliminally conveying the power of the detergent. The spots took advantage of P&G’s diverse roster of products, including Old Spice deodorant and Mr. Clean household cleaner.
Unlike last year, when advertisers reflected on the tense post-election national mood, most chose to stay away from anything that could be seen as divisive. But every year a brand seems to stumble. This time, it was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’s turn.
In the second quarter, Ram Trucks aired a commercial with a voiceover of a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon from 1968. It showed dramatic scenes like a firefighter carrying a boy from a burning car and a member of the military embracing his son at the airport. While the ad’s message of service might have had good intentions, some viewers didn’t like the idea of a civil rights icon being commercialized. “Are MLK’s words really being used to sell cars?” tweeted Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine.
“It is 50 years to the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave such a tremendous speech about the value of service,” Ram said in a statement. “Ram was honored to have the privilege of working with the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually.” King’s representatives participated in the process of creating the ad, the company said.
A few spots touched on issues of interest to President Donald Trump, like the WeatherTech commercial featuring a factory being constructed. “We built our new factory right in here in America,” the ad for the car floor-mat maker said. “Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?”