Super Bowl Notes: Advertisers more cautious with their audience

Super Bowl Notes: Advertisers more cautious with their audience

NEW YORK -- Super Bowl advertisers are treading carefully this year to avoid alienating customers as a divisive political climate takes some of the buzz away from what is usually the biggest spectacle on TV.

Ad critic Barbara Lippert says that while "people need an escape," like the Super Bowl, this year's matchup on the field feels "so much less important than what's going on politically."

To get the attention back, some advertisers are turning to nostalgia, celebrities and marketing stunts. P&G is sexing up Mr. Clean, Honda is featuring nine celebrities and Snickers is running a live ad.

Others are touching on social issues, without being too blunt about it. Budweiser won the pre-game buzz with a sweeping cinematic ad showcasing founder Adolphus Busch's 1857 immigration from Germany to St. Louis. Although it has been in the works since May , the ad felt topical, as it was released online just days after President Donald Trump's travel ban against people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The ad got more than 8 million views on YouTube in just four days.

Although many brands released ads online ahead of time, there will still be surprises during Fox's Super Bowl broadcast Sunday. At $5 million for a 30-second spot, and an expected U.S. audience of more than 110 million, the pressure is on.

Tiptoeing around politics
Audi's spot addresses gender equality as a man muses about his daughter receiving equal pay as men one day.

Building supplies retailer 84 Lumber had to revise its original ad because a scene featuring a border wall was deemed too controversial by Fox. The new ad shows a Mexican woman and her daughter making a trip by foot across Mexico. The ad's ending will be revealed at halftime athttp://journey84.com ; the website suggests excised footage will be shown.

And Kia attempts a humorous approach. In an ad for the Niro car, Melissa McCarthy takes on political causes like saving whales, ice caps and trees, each time to disastrous effect. The message: "It's hard to be an eco-warrior, but it's easy to drive like one" with a fuel-efficient Niro.

Though advertisers are being extra careful, taking on any sort of political topic might backfire, says Mark DiMassimo, CEO of ad agency DiMassimo Goldstein. Against the backdrop of an "emboldened, enraged or traumatized audience," he says, themes that might have been innocuous in the past "seem more strident and jarring this year."

Stuffed with celebrities
In turbulent times, brands can count on celebrities to ensure goodwill among consumers.

And why use one celebrity when you can have many? In Honda's ad , the high-school yearbook photos of Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Viola Davis, Missy Elliott, Tina Fey, Magic Johnson, Jimmy Kimmel, Stan Lee and Robert Redford come to life with special effects. The animations encourage people to follow their dreams in a nod to Honda's longtime slogan, "The Power of Dreams."

Website hosting company Squarespace shows an intense John Malkovich berating the owner of johnmalkovich.com domain name.

Justin Bieber shows off dance moves to tout T-Mobile cellphone offerings. For the baby boomer crowd, Mercedes-Benz shows a biker gang being amazed by Peter Fonda's AMG GT roadster to the tune of Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild."

"The proliferation of athletes and more personalities is a reflection of not taking too much risk," says Kelly O'Keefe from Virginia Commonwealth University's advertising graduate program. "When in doubt get a personality."

Blast from the past
Anheuser-Busch joins Mercedes-Benz in trying to reach consumers with nostalgia. The brewer's ad shows a mountain man opening a can of Busch beer to the sound of "Buschhhhh." It's a nod to the brand's ad campaign, introduced in 1978, which lasted for decades.

Meanwhile, Bud Light is bringing back the ghost of its 1980s spokesdog Spuds Mackenzie -- literally. In its ad, the dog appears as a ghost dangling in the air, urging a Bud Light drinker to go out and join his friends, like the ghosts in the holiday classic "A Christmas Carol."

And P&G sexes up its Mr. Clean mascot, introduced as an animated character in 1958. In the new ad , he distracts a woman as he cleans her kitchen.

"Emotions are the secret sauce of getting people to do things, and nostalgia is a great reason for people to pay attention," says Devra Prywes of video analytics firm Unruly.

Here's to health
After 10 years, Frito-Lay has retired its "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign for Doritos. Those ads, created by consumers, were usually filled with slapstick humor.

Taking its place? A healthier approach. PepsiCo is featuring its new bottled water called LifeWTR and its sugar-free soft drink, Pepsi Zero Sugar. Bai Brands investor Justin Timberlake helps promote the company's antioxidant-infused drinks. And one of Wonderful Co.'s 15-second ads promotes the health benefits of its pistachios.

Avocados from Mexico is focusing on its "healthy fats" in a humorous ad showing a secret society subliminally influenced by Jon Lovitz to chow down on guacamole.

Surprises
The biggest buzz may come from what hasn't been revealed ahead of time.

Snickers' ad with Adam Driver and a "Wild West" theme will be performed live during the third quarter.

Hyundai tapped "Deepwater Horizon" director Peter Berg to shoot an ad during the game itself for airing right after the game ends.

Chrysler, long known for its surprise two-minute ads starring celebrities like Eminem and Clint Eastwood, won't even say whether it's advertising this year. Coca-Cola says it bought two spots, but it's keeping the topic a mystery.

"Ultimately, the advertiser who gives us sweet relief without that aftertaste is going to win," DiMassimo says. "Something simple, delightful and cheerful."

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Pederson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much.