LOS ANGELES - Dads comfort crying kids and animals look adorable as brands take a play-it-safe route this year in the fiercely fought ad battle that will unfold during Sunday's broadcast of the Super Bowl.
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Companies spent as much as a record $4.5 million for 30 seconds during the U.S. football championship, which traditionally draws more than 100 million viewers, the year's biggest TV audience.
The contest between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will be broadcast on Comcast Corp.'s NBC.
With so much on the line, many marketers are turning to upbeat messages and striking tones of unity, festivity and triumph over adversity, experts said. Dozens of commercials and teasers have already been released online.
"We are going to see safe humor and advertisers sticking with broadly popular themes," said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
Anheuser-Busch InBev's Budweiser, which scored a year ago with a heart-warming ad about a puppy and the brand's trademark Clydesdales, is returning to that theme.
On Thursday, its new "Lost Dog" ad topped rankings by iSpot, which tracks video views and social-media comments, and had been watched more than 6 million times on YouTube.
Reality-TV star Kim Kardashian's spot for T-Mobile also generated buzz. Mocking her celebrity, Kardashian warns that other carriers take back unused data that customers could use to view photos of her, while T-Mobile lets users keep data for as long as a year.
Three brands - Toyota, Nissan and Unilever's Dove Men+Care - are celebrating fatherhood. Dove's ad shows doting dads rushing to help an upset child or dancing at a daughter's wedding.
Fifteen advertisers are joining the game for the first time. They include glue maker Loctite, Skittles candies and cruise operator Carnival Corp.
The NFL will inject a serious note with a public-service announcement that urges an end to domestic violence, an issue that tarnished the league this season.
Viewers also will see surprises, as some brands withhold their commercials until the game.
So far, few ads are stirring controversy this year.
Web-services company GoDaddy pulled its planned commercial after animal lovers said it seemed to promote puppy mills. The company will run a different ad in its place, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving wrote on the company's blog.
"We hope it makes you laugh," he said.