Humor, social messages proliferate at a tame Super Bowl

NFL’s Giants recreated a ‘Dirty Dancing’ scene in a crowd-pleasing advert. (Photo courtesy: Twitter)
Updated 05 February 2018
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Humor, social messages proliferate at a tame Super Bowl

NEW YORK: This year’s Super Bowl ads ran the gamut from tame humor to ... tame messages about social causes.
After a divisive year, advertisers during the Big Game worked overtime to win over audiences with messages that entertained and strove not to offend. The slapstick humor and sexual innuendo that used to be commonplace during Super Bowl ad breaks were nowhere in sight.
Instead, Budweiser , as always the largest advertiser during the game, eschewed the usual puppies and Clydesdales to showcase employees that send water to places in need. Verizon showed people thanking first responders who saved them. And Tide tried to make people laugh (and perhaps forget about its Tide Pod problem ) with a humorous series of ads that starred “Stranger Things’” actor David Harbor.
“This is a year where people are feeling a little frayed around the edges because the divisive political environment on both sides,” said Kelly O’Keefe, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter. “They want to feel like there’s something still good in the world.”
While the Philadelphia Eagles bested the New England Patriots in a nailbiter on the field, advertisers were fighting a similar battle to win over the hearts and minds of viewers. It’s the largest live stage for advertising all year, so advertisers brought their A-game.
Tide took a novel approach with ads each quarter that poked fun at typical Super Bowl ads. Harbor popped up in familiar-looking ads that appear to be about different products: a car, an insurance company, jewelry and Old Spice (another P&G product). The twist? They’re really all Tide ads, because there are no stains on anyone’s clothing.
Tame comedy like the Tide ad was a theme throughout the night. In a year that saw the #MeToo movement shine a spotlight on sexual harassment, the vast majority of ads sill starred men but there weren’t any that focused on scantily-clad women or sexual innuendo, save for an awkwardly dancing — and fully dressed — woman in a Diet Coke ad.
Comedian Keegan Michael-Key cut through complex jargon to put things plainly in a humorous ad for Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. When a restaurant patron is confused by what a “beef-protein gluten-free pate” is, he explains: “It’s a burrito, filled with plants pretending to be meat.”
An Amazon ad showcased different celebrities — including actress Rebel Wilson, actor Anthony Hopkins, singer Cardi B and chef Gordon Ramsay — filling in as the voice of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.
M&M’s featured Danny DeVito as a human M&M. And Mountain Dew and Doritos staged an epic hip-hop lip sync battle between actors Morgan Freeman and Peter Dinklage. The two synced to Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes, respectively.
“There’s a reason so many marketers are using celebrity combined with comedy — because it breaks through the clutter, delivers the message and gets buzz,” said Aaron Shapiro, CEO of ad agency Huge.
An ad for Blacture, rapper Pras’ new media platform, was one of the few ads to make an overtly political statement. It showed an African-American man standing alone on stage with tape over his mouth and a blindfold on his eyes. “Blacture. Be celebrated. Not Tolerated,” text on the screen read. And T-Mobile’s ad showed babies and enlisted Kerry Washington for a voiceover that talked about equality.
“The (T-Mobile) message is terrific but all the way through, if you asked consumers who the ad is for, nobody would know,” said Kimberly Whitler, marketing professor at the University of Virginia.
That kind of attempt to connect brands to social causes was a big theme of the night. Charles Taylor, a marketing professor at Villanova University, said a fifth of all Super Bowl ads featured causes, compared with just 6 percent last year.
Toyota kicked things off by depicting the story of Lauren Woolstencroft, a Paraolympic skier who was born missing her left arm below the elbow as well as both legs below the knees, to promote its Paralympic sponsorship.
Budweiser showcased employees from its Cartersville, Georgia, brewery as they canned water to send to places in need like Puerto Rico and California.
Hyundai showcased its donations to fight pediatric cancer by bringing real Hyundai owners into a room during the pre-game Super Bowl festivities and letting them meet cancer survivors. Hyundai donates each time someone buys one of its cars.
“There’s a lot of research that says millennials really like it when brands link themselves to causes,” said Taylor. “It’s just refreshing for a lot of people to see these unifying types of messages by the advertiser.”
But advertisers can stumble in these efforts when the connection seems tenuous. There was some negative reaction when Fiat Chrysler’s Dodge Ram ad featured a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. The ad, timed to the 50th anniversary of the speech, showed people doing good deeds like giving out food to the needy and rescuing a boy from a fire.
“Everyone was offended,” said Zach Mann, who watched the game in Venice, California, with a group of 15 thirtysomethings. “It seems insensitive. We know it’s Black History Month, but using an American hero to sell a Dodge was offputting. “
Instead, it was the humorous ads like the Tide spots that won that group over.
“Everyone seems to be moving into more comedy, quirky, unique (ideas), which my friends and I all are enjoying way more” than past years, Mann said. “I think we all need more laughter these days.”


Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

A Google sign is seen during the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai, China August 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 August 2018
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Google employees demand more oversight of China search engine plan

  • Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability
  • Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is not close to launching a search engine app in China, its chief executive said at a companywide meeting on Thursday, according to a transcript seen by Reuters, as employees of the Alphabet Inc. unit called for more transparency and oversight of the project.
Chief Executive Sundar Pichai told staff that though development is in an early stage, providing more services in the world’s most populous country fits with Google’s global mission.
Hoping to gain approval from the Chinese government to provide a mobile search service, the company plans to block some websites and search terms, Reuters reported this month, citing unnamed sources.
Whether the company could or would launch search in China “is all very unclear,” Pichai said, according to the transcript. “The team has been in an exploration stage for quite a while now, and I think they are exploring many options.”
Disclosure of the secretive effort has disturbed some Google employees and human rights advocacy organizations. They are concerned that by agreeing to censorship demands, Google would validate China’s prohibitions on free expression and violate the “don’t be evil” clause in the company’s code of conduct.
Hundreds of employees have called on the company to provide more “transparency, oversight and accountability,” according to an internal petition seen by Reuters on Thursday.
After a separate petition this year, Google announced it would not renew a project to help the US military develop artificial intelligence technology for drones.
The China petition says employees are concerned the project, code named Dragonfly, “makes clear” that ethics principles Google issued during the drone debate “are not enough.”
“We urgently need more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear and open processes: Google employees need to know what we’re building,” states the document seen by Reuters.
The New York Times first reported the petition on Thursday. Google declined to comment.
Company executives have not commented publicly on Dragonfly, and their remarks at the company-wide meeting marked their first about the project since details about it were leaked.
Employees have asked Google to create an ethics review group with rank-and-file workers, appoint ombudspeople to provide independent review and internally publish assessments of projects that raise substantial ethical questions.
Pichai told employees: “We’ll definitely be transparent as we get closer to actually having a plan of record here” on Dragonfly, according to the transcript. He noted the company guards information on some projects where sharing too early can “cause issues.”
Three former employees involved with Google’s past efforts in China told Reuters current leadership may see offering limited search results in China as better than providing no information at all.
The same rationale led Google to enter China in 2006. It left in 2010 over an escalating dispute with regulators that was capped by what security researchers identified as state-sponsored cyberattacks against Google and other large US firms.
The former employees said they doubt the Chinese government will welcome back Google. A Chinese official, who declined to be named, told Reuters this month that it is “very unlikely” Dragonfly would be available this year.