NEW YORK -- Advertisers played it safe in Super Bowl ads this year.
There were no crude jokes. Sexual innuendo was kept to a minimum. And uncomfortable story lines were all but missing. And in their place, much more sedate ads.
From the light humor of RadioShack poking fun at its image with '80s icons like Teen Wolf and the California raisins to a Coca-Cola ad showcasing diversity by singing "America the Beautiful" in different languages, it was a softer night of advertising.
With a 30-second spot costing around $4 million and more than 108 million viewers expected to tune in to the championship game, it's was crucial for advertisers to make their investment count. The shocking ads in years past have not always been well received (Think: GoDaddy.com's ad that features a long, up-close kiss came in at the bottom of the most popular ads.) So this year, advertisers out of their way to be more family friendly themes: socially conscious statements, patriotic messages and light humor.
"Advertisers are getting attention, but they're not trying to go over the top," said David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer for digital ad agency MRY. "A lot of brands were going with the safety from the start."
The safer ads had a mixed reaction among viewers. Keith Harris, who was watching the Super Bowl with friends and family in Raleigh, N.C., said he appreciated the safer ads. "The ads are less funny, but it's easier to watch the Super Bowl with your family," he said.
But Paul Capelli, who lives in West Chester, Pa., found most ads to be dull: "The best spots were like a Payton Manning-to-Wes Welker pass play -- they were there, but too few and those that connected left you wanting something a bit more spectacular."
Many advertisers played it safe by promoting a cause or focusing on sentimental issues.
Chevrolet's ad showed a couple driving through the desert in remembrance of World Cancer Day. Bank of America turned its ad into a virtual video for singing group U2's new single "Invisible" to raise money for an AIDS charity. The song will be a free download on iTunes for 24 hours following the game and Bank of America will donate $1 each time it is downloaded to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.
Meanwhile, a Microsoft ad focused on how its technology helps people in different ways. The ad is narrated by Steve Gleason, a former prof football player who is living with ALS. He uses a Surface Pro running Tobii's eye gazer technology to speak. And an Anheuser-Busch "Hero's Welcome" ad was an ode to U.S. soldiers. The spot showed how Anheuser-Busch helped prepare big celebration that included a parade with Clydesdales as a surprise for a soldier returning from Afghanistan.
Many advertisers took the safe route by playing up their Americana roots.
Coca-Cola showcased America's diversity with a spot that showed scenes of natural beauty and families of different diversities to the tune of "America the Beautiful" being sung in different languages.
Chrysler debuted a two-minute ad starring Bob Dylan, who discusses the virtues of having cars built in Detroit, the theme that it has stuck with in previous ads with Eminem and Clint Eastwood. "Let Germany brew your beer. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car," Dylan says in the ad.
Barbara Lippert, ad critic and Mediapost.com, said the ads were an attempt by companies to connect with viewers on a more personal level. "We want to be able to feel through all these screens and through all the hype there's a human element and in the end were all human," said Barbara Lippert, ad critic and Mediapost.com.
Jokes were also a lot tamer this year in Super Bowl ads. "A few years ago we had a lot of physical slapstick, this year there's a lot less of that: less outright use of seniors and animals are still alive and well," said Berkowitz.
But this year, advertisers that typically go with more crude humor and scantily clad women toned it down this year. Bud Light, for instance, showed an ad using hidden cameras taking a non-actor on an adventure, GoDaddy.com's ad showed it helping a small-business owner quit her job and Doritos' spot featured a kid playing a joke on a man by making him think a box is a time machine so that he could steal his Doritos. "Women were fed up and parents were fed up and advertisers listened," Mediapost.com's Lippert.
Other advertisers went with light humor as well. There were mini sitcom reunions: in an ad for Danon Oikos, the "Full House" cast reunited. And Jerry, George and even Newman came back to Tom's diner in New York City for an ad for Jerry Seinfield's show "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."
Stephen Colbert appeared in a pair of 15-second ads for Wonderful Pistachios. In one he predicted the nuts would sell themselves because "I'm wonderful, they're wonderful." He was back a few seconds later covered in bright green branded messages because the nuts hadn't sold out in 30 seconds.
Another light-humored ad came from RadioShack. The consumer electronics retailers poked fun at its own image by showing 1980s pop culture figures like The California Rasins, Teen Wolf, Chucky, Alf and Hulk Hogan destroying a store, with a voiceover: "The 80s called, they want their store back. It's time for a new RadioShack."
"That was very brave of RadioShack because that's what everybody thinks about RadioShack," Lippert said.