There won't be dead children, cyber bullying or domestic abuse in Super Bowl 50, at least that we know of so far. After the 2015 big game was dubbed the "somber bowl" by some, it left the ad industry asking, is the Super Bowl a place for such serious ads?
The answer for many marketers seems to be no, with the tone of Super Bowl 50 commercials much more comedic and upbeat. And advertisers are replacing social themes with some serious star power.
While celebrities have always been an integral part of Super Bowl campaigns, Super Bowl 50 promises to be the most star-studded in some time.
According to E-Poll Market Research, there are currently at least 33 celebrities being tapped for Super Bowl campaigns, and that number is only expected to rise as the creative for commercials are revealed this week. These totals do not include halftime performers or stars that appear in movie trailers. In comparison, there were 28 celebrities in total in the 2015 game, 26 in 2014 and 19 in 2013.
Comedians Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen will star in a Bud Light ad that spoofs the presidential election, while another Anheuser-Busch label, Shock Top, will feature comedian T.J. Miller. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, of Comedy Central's sketch comedy show "Key and Peele," will appear in Squarespace's spot; Amazon tapped Alec Baldwin for its first spot in the big game; and Scott Baio of "Happy Days" fame will make a cameo in Avocado's From Mexico's commercial.
Steven Tyler is set to star in Skittles' Super Bowl spot. This will be the first time a celebrity will be featured in a "Taste the Rainbow" commercial. Using the Aerosmith front man is a departure for the brand, which opted not to use celebrities in last year's Super Bowl spot.
And Hyundai will include Ryan Reynolds in one of its spots, as well as Kevin Hart in a commercial slated to air before kickoff.
"Celebrities bring a lot of brand love to the game and they also bring a social following," Hyundai MotorAmerica Chief Marketing Officer Dean Evans previously said.
Hyundai chose these celebrities because of the attention they are getting for their own work. Mr. Reynolds stars in the upcoming Marvel superhero movie "Deadpool," while Mr. Hart is in the just-released flick "Ride Along 2." The two stars also have huge Twitter followings, with Mr. Hart at 25.2 million followers and Mr. Reynolds at nearly 1 million followers. Both men are expected to tweet about their Super Bowl ads as part of their deal with Hyundai.
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Lil' Wayne, Missy Elliott, Christopher Walken and Liam Neeson are among the other celebrities that will be featured during Super Bowl 50.
This may be a welcome reprieve for viewers who last year were inundated with thought-provoking, teary commercials.
Nissan, Dove Men + Care and Toyota celebrated dads with heartfelt messaging in Super Bowl XLIX; Coca-Cola looked to put an end to hate-filled internet comments by turning them into positive messages; and Microsoft featured a little boy with prosthetic legs to show how its technology is bettering lives. And of course there was Nationwide's "Boy" commercial, which received plenty of backlash for telling a story about a boy who dies because of a plethora of preventable accidents.
There are the obvious benefits of leaning on celebrities for Super Bowl campaigns, including their social media prowess. Rapper Lil' Wayne has been posting teasers for Apartments.com's Super Bowl spot, for which he is starring, to his more than 25 million followers. And Missy Elliott announced she will appear in Amazon's first Super Bowl spot to her nearly 3 million followers. In most cases, the celebrities have more social followers than the brands they are representing -- Apartments.com has about 20,000 Twitter followers, while Amazon has just over 2 million.
While great creative coupled with the right star can make a Super Bowl ad stand out -- think Betty White in Snicker's original "You're Not You When You're Hungry," or Mean Joe Green for Coca-Cola -- typically celebrity-driven Super Bowl ads perform slightly below average, according to Charles R. Taylor, professor of marketing, Villanova School of Business.
"While ads with celebrities can work, academic studies of Super Bowl advertising suggest that they perform slightly below the average of all Super Bowl ads, both in terms of likeability and brand-building ability," he said. "This is not to say that an individual ad with a celebrity can't be successful, but it may be a challenge…"
And serious ads have also been found to outperform commercials using humor, Professor Taylor added, pointing to the emotional appeals of Budweiser's "Lost Dog" or "Brotherhood" ads and Chrysler's "Halftime in America" and "Imported from Detroit."
Still, many marketers want to leave viewers with a more upbeat takeaway this time around.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele will star in Squarespace's spot as Lee and Morris, aspiring sportscasters from Atlanta who want to comment on the big game. They've pooled their resources together and set up a website on Squarespace for the live broadcast, with one massive oversight -- they don't have the rights to talk about the actual game.
Not only will the comedians star in the ad, but they will also provide live commentary throughout the game on Squarespace.
"For most Americans, the Super Bowl is an occasion to come together and celebrate with friends and family," said Chris Paul, VP-media and acquisition, Squarespace. "Bringing humor is the best way to add something to that occasion, and the challenge for advertisers is to be funny while being aligned with your brand values."
And for some brands the decision to take a more lighthearted approach simply fits with the brand's message.
"Our personality as a brand is being part of meaningful, good times," said Kevin Hamilton, director-brand marketing, Avocados From Mexico. "We are part of the origination of a good time."
In the producer's spot, an alien leads a tour in an interplanetary museum through an exhibit of Earth. The tour highlights what the aliens have determined are the most unique Earthly possessions, which include pop-culture items like a Rubik's cube, a mannequin wearing the infamous blue or gold dress that drove the internet crazy and Scott Baio, along with Avocados From Mexico.
But an influx of humorous ads may make it difficult to distinguish one from the other.
"This year, some of the lighter, humorous appeals will, no doubt, get lost in the crowd," Professor Taylor said. "It will take outstanding creative and a strong link back to the product to stand out."
It could also present an opportunity for those advertisers that are appealing to a social cause or social responsibility to stand out.
Colgate, which is making its Super Bowl debut, won't be looking to sell toothpaste, but instead is focusing on water conservation. And Suntrust will emphasize financial confidence in the face of an environment where 70% of Americans feel like they struggle financially.
BMW's Mini will also look to inspire people to defeat labels with a roster of six celebrities that include tennis star Serena Williams, actor-producer Harvey Keitel, rapper T-Pain, skateboarder Tony Hawk and former baseball star Randy Johnson.
The commercial is intended to move the car brand beyond the labels it has often been associated with, like small, cute and not powerful, said Tom
To drive home this message, the company sought out celebrities who have struggled to defeat the labels they have been given.
In choosing celebrities to represent Mini, Mr. Noble said, they were looking for those "who were able to talk about labels authentically and also have a natural relationship with Mini."
"Humor is not the only thing that works in the Super Bowl. It does and it is certainly a party atmosphere. But you can entertain in more ways than just humor. There are different ways to cut through to the Super Bowl audience," Mr. Noble said.