5 Feb 2019

Super Bowl ads heavy on humour, surprises and robots

11:46 am on 5 February 2019

The New England Patriots reigned supreme over the LA Rams on the field in Atlanta, but during ad breaks, advertisers battled each other for buzz.

This undated image provided by Anheuser-Busch shows a scene from the company's Bud Light 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot. (Anheuser-Busch via AP)

The Bud Light ad drew some raves from TV viewers. Photo: AP

Take, for instance, Jason Bateman's Hyundai ad about an elevator with unpleasantness on every floor. A surprise Game of Thrones tie-in with Bud Light both confused and delighted viewers. And robots seemed to be everywhere as advertisers picked up on Americans' unease over their growing dependence on artificial intelligence.

This year's ads are "more mild than wild," said Kelly O'Keefe, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's Brandcenter. "While the focus of the night is on entertainment rather than controversy, there is very little that we're going to be talking about at the water cooler tomorrow."

Bud Light was one of the more talked about advertisers during the game. The Bud Light spot started off focused on its Bud Knight mascot in a jousting tournament. But he ends up facing an evil character from the TV show who attacks him while a dragon fills the sky and apparently incinerates the scene - abruptly turning the ad into a promo for the upcoming final season of the Game of Thrones TV series.

Super Bowl ad fan Tom Olivieri, 42, watching the game at a party at his sister's house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said the ad was the "best so far."

"Everyone here loves Game of Thrones," he said, "the whole room was screaming".

Bud's wasn't the only misdirection of the night. A Hulu ad for the new season of The Handmaid's Tale started out as a spoof of Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign ad Morning in America. And a promo for CBS' new Twilight Zone made it seem like the game was starting up again in Atlanta before abruptly cutting to an empty stadium with host Jordan Peele at the centre.

Ads poking fun at robots appeared everywhere. TurboTax had a Robochild and Michelob Ultra showcased an uber-athletic robot sad that he could not partake in a beer. SimpliSafe and Sprint's ads also featured robots, while Pringles and Amazon made fun of smart assistants.

Most of the ads played up robots for laughs and weren't realistic.

"We have a real anxiety about AI and our future overlords, and a lot of advertisers are trying to address it," said Mark DiMassimo, head of ad agency DiMassimo Goldstein.

This undated image made from a video provided by Amazon shows a scene from the company's 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot featuring Harrison Ford. Amazon pokes fun at itself as celebrities from Harrison Ford to astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly test products

Harrison Ford appeared in Amazon's ad. Photo: AP

Amazon's ad was the best of the bunch, he said. It showed Harrison Ford, Forest Whitaker and other celebrities testing out rejected Amazon products that feature its Alexa digital assistant, such as a talking electric toothbrush and a dog collar that responds to dogs, not humans.

"Amazon stands out for having gotten tech-related advertising right," he said. Their ad was "pop-culture first, self-deprecating, and it plays against the robot-like personality of Alexa".

Women-centric ads were also big. After Hulu's Handmaid's Tale spot, Serena Williams appeared as spokeswoman for Bumble, which bills itself as a feminist dating app where women make the first move. The tennis icon urges women not to wait to be given power, saying "we already have it".

Supermodel Karlie Kloss played up her identity as a businesswoman in an ad for web-hosting service Wix.com . She wore an understated green T-shirt, a far cry from skimpily clad super models in Super Bowl ads of yore.

This undated image provided by Microsoft shows a scene from the company's 2019 Super Bowl NFL football spot. (Microsoft via AP)

The Microsoft ad that featured a disabled child who appreciates the adaptive Xbox controller designed for players with mobility limitations Photo: AP

Ads in general avoided politics, but a few tugged at the heartstrings.

A Microsoft ad showed a disabled child talking excitedly about the fun he has using Microsoft's adaptive Xbox controller designed for players with mobility limitations. The Washington Post aired an ad voiced by Tom Hanks highlighting the often dangerous work journalists do.

This undated image provided by Google shows a scene from the company's ad for the Super Bowl NFL football ads. (Google via AP)

One of Google's ads that showcased how useful it is for users. Photo: AP

Google's pair of ads focused on its good deeds. One focused on its ability to help veterans search for jobs. Another emphasised the human side of its translation service. "Words can hurt and sometimes divide," the voiceover said. But according to the ad, every day the most translated words are: "How are you," ''Thank you," and "I love you."

That ad was a favourite at Robert Lerner's gathering in Los Altos, California. He hosted about 20 people on game day.

"People liked the fact it was international and shows Google is doing the good stuff - we live in Google country," he said. "It was heartwarming and good to see."

- AP