USA TODAY’s Ad Meter has been ranking Super Bowl commercials by consumer rating since 1989, tracking more than 1,600 ads from hundreds of different companies to date.
Every year, there are few familiar themes in these ads — attempts at comedy, celebrity cameos, etc. — and a few unique trends and themes that stand out. And if the commercials being released ahead of Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers are any indication, this year will be no different.
Here are five key themes and trends to look out for on the Super Bowl ad front Sunday night.
Commercials with a cause
Several of this year’s advertisers are using their Super Bowl ads to either show you the good they’re doing, or show you how to help — with explicit ties to charitable causes or campaigns.
Kia, for example, built its 60-second spot around youth homelessness and says it will make significant donations to three nonprofit organizations that address that issue. Olay pledged to donate money to Girls Who Code. WeatherTech seeks to raise funds for the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine. And so on and so forth.
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Even more celebs than usual?
It might feel that way, at least.
While there’s nothing new about celebrities in Super Bowl commercials, this year’s batch of ads seems particularly crowded with them. Some companies built their entire ad around the presence and likability of their celebs; See Genesis’ ad with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, or the Pop-Tarts ad starring Jonathan Van Ness. In other ads, meanwhile, the celebrities are just blips on the screen — a brief appearance for Bill Nye in SodaStream’s ad, for example.
Regardless of how large or small their roles might be, celebrities will likely grace the screen in the majority of Super Bowl commercials this year — often as many as four or five in a single spot.
Technical and artistic leaps
In the “Ads That Make You Go ‘Huh'” category, there are a few big contenders.
Heinz took a unique artistic direction this year by dividing the screen into four quadrants and showing four separate stories at once. (All of them, naturally, include Heinz ketchup.) It’s a significant risk, and it’s unclear whether viewers will be wowed by the visuals — or overwhelmed.
From a technical standpoint, the clear outlier this year is Procter & Gamble, which is using technology from the “Bandersnatch” episode of Black Mirror to create the choose-your-own-adventure of Super Bowl commercials. “We are re-inventing advertising,” Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer at P&G, said in a statement.
Old guard vs. new names
In the 15-year span from 1994 through 2008, only two advertisers won USA TODAY’s Ad Meter: Budweiser/Bud Light and Pepsi.
Yet in the past four years, there have been four different winners — all of them first-time champs.
As the Super Bowl marketplace has gotten more crowded, it’s also gotten more diverse. The Budweisers and Pepsis of the world still have a strong presence, but there’s a chance that a relative newcomer to Super Bowl advertising could surge to the top, as the NFL did last year.
Political ads, and political themes
This year’s national commercial slate will feature three traditional political campaign ads, a rarity given the expense that these advertising slots carry. President Donald Trump will air two 30-second ads, one of which has been released, and Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg will air one 60-second spot.
There will also be plenty of ads that might not be overtly political but will certainly have political undertones. Budweiser’s commercial, titled “Typical American,” is one of them. Amazon’s lengthy spot about a world without Alexa, which has a bit about “fake news,” is another.
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