After politics seeped onto the football field during the regular season, Super Bowl advertisers, in a stark contrast to last year, opted to stay far away from anything divisive when they made their pitch to the year's biggest television audience on Sunday.
Ratings for National Football League games dropped nearly 10 percent during the regular season. Media experts said protests over racial inequality drove some viewers away. TV broadcasters showed players kneeling or locking arms during pre-game presentations of "The Star-Spangled Banner," prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to call them unpatriotic.
But advertising expert Tony Case told Reuters companies still want to be associated with the big game - no matter the cost.
"Thirty second spots are going for five million dollars this year. But that's only the beginning for advertisers. They spend many millions more on production, on celebrity, endorsers. And, so, this is a major investment for marketers, but one that they continue to think it pays off, because of the massive viewership of the Super Bowl. More than 100 million people watch the Super Bowl. There's nothing even remotely approaching that in terms of a mass audience for advertisers. So, it's money well spent for the brands," he said.
Makers of cars, snack chips, electronics and beer are favoring heartwarming and humorous approaches to grab viewers during the U.S. football championship match-up between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
Pepsi Co brands Doritos and Mountain Dew, for example, staged a lip-sync rap battle between actors Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman in a teaser released online. Amazon.com Inc's Alexa assistant lost her voice in the company's Super Bowl ad which featured up and coming rapper Cardi B.
The one notable exception was the politically charged Dodge ad featuring a clip of Martin Luther King Jr. ’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, which he delivered 50 years ago on Feb. 4, 1968. While the ad was meant to be inspirational, with the speech voiced over images of athletes training, soldiers coming home and kids learning in classrooms, it immediately sparked criticism online.
Twitter users voiced their disapproval pointing to the “irony of the NFL co-signing an ad that tries to monetize King’s activism while shutting out Colin Kaepernick and his protests of police brutality and systemic racism,” wrote the Huffington Post’s Alanna Vagianos.
“Black people cant kneel and play football but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the super bowl,” writer and comedian Akilah Hughes tweeted. “Unbelievable.”
For the most part, Advertisers stuck to proven strategies, such as comedy or positive emotions, rather than stepping into controversies like the debate over athletes kneeling during the National Anthem, marketing experts said.