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Game on. On advertising's biggest night, Super Bowl ads are aiming for optimism.
An Audi ad will show an aging astronaut getting reinvigorated by driving an Audi to the tune of David Bowie's "Starman." Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan will try to unit Americans with the "Bud Light Party." And Axe will tell teenagers to embrace their unique qualities and "Find Your Magic."
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The stakes are high, with more than 114 million people expected to tune into CBS as the Carolina Panthers duke it out with the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara, California. Forty-plus advertisers — including newcomers like Amazon and stalwarts like Anheuser-Busch — have taken a $5 million gamble for a 30-second chance to wow viewers.
Instead of slapstick-focused ads or racy messages this year, advertisers are trying to break out with empowering and even heartfelt messages. Pokemon urges kids to "Train on," Michelob Ultra tells exercisers to "Breathe" and SunTrust urges people to let go of financial stress.
"The Super Bowl ad party is growing up," said Kelly O'Keefe, a Virginia Commonwealth University marketing professor. "We're telling stories in different ways. The storytelling is better than ever."
In an effort to grab early buzz, almost three dozen advertisers released their ads online ahead of the game this year. YouTube says brands that release their ads on YouTube before the game receive an average of 2.2 times more views than those that wait until game day to post an ad.
Pokémon released its first ever Big Game ad a full two weeks ago, and amassed more 15.8 million views ahead of the game. Hyundai's "The Chase" ad, which shows people escaping grizzly bears by using Hyundai's remote start feature, was released Monday and surpassed 17 million views by game time.
There are still some surprises in store on Game Day. Coke stayed mum on its Avengers-themed ad until game time. Amazon, Chrysler and Taco Bell were also early-buzz holdouts.
Ads have a decidedly lighter tone than last year, when a Nationwide ad about preventable household accidents struck many as too dark for the Super Bowl.
Celebrities are helping ads go for laughs. Steven Tyler will sing "Dream On" with a portrait of Steven Tyler — one made of Skittles. Willem Dafoe channels a hungry Marilyn Monroe for Snickers and Drake faces telecom executives trying to make his "Hotline Bling" song sound more like a cell phone contract.
Other themes this year include cute animals — Heinz shows wiener dogs frolicking in its ads — and anthemic rock songs, with Acura showcasing its NSX sports car to the tune of Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil."
For the most part, advertisers have been playing it extra safe, going for crowd pleasers instead of shock tactics. That has led some to find the Super Bowl ads released so far lacking.
"Where's the spice? We're missing a little bit of Tabasco this year," said VCU's O'Keefe.