Super Bowl ads lean on stars, humor to grab attention

Feb 9 (Reuters) - An unprecedented number of star-studded commercials will battle for attention during Sunday's Super Bowl airing on Fox (FOXA.O), as brands focus on getting laughs in a tough economy.

Celebrities from the worlds of music and movies including rock legends Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol, who appear in a Workday (WDAY.O) ad about corporate "rockstars," and rapper Jack Harlow, featured in a spot for Doritos, will hit notes of humor and self-deprecation as the Kansas City Chiefs battle the Philadelphia Eagles for the National Football League championship.

Big-name celebrities are not uncommon in Super Bowl ads. But the level of star power is unique this year as advertisers look to unite viewers rather than risk souring the mood with overly heartfelt or controversial messages, especially as consumers deal with high inflation and political divisiveness, said Charles Ray Taylor, a professor of marketing at Villanova University School of Business.

In years past, some advertisers have used the Super Bowl to put a focus on social issues such as gender equality and access to clean water. Those messages will not be at the forefront this time around as brands look to tried-and-true humor, he said.

Companies are of course striving to make their commercials memorable to get the most bang for their bucks from ads that have reached a record-high price, said Derek Rucker, professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

A 30-second Super Bowl spot this year sold for a little over $7 million, according to a person familiar with the ad sales.

“Advertisers want people talking about their brand, and not just during the 30 to 60 seconds of (Super Bowl) air time,” Rucker said.

For the first time in over three decades, Budweiser-maker Anheuser-Busch (ABI.BR) gave up its contract as the game’s exclusive alcohol advertiser, paving the way for a boozy Super Bowl that will include celebrities pitching other beer and liquor brands.

Actor Paul Rudd, who stars in this month's "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania," appears as the Marvel superhero, reassuring an actual ant that he is not imbibing on the job, displaying Heineken’s non-alcoholic beer, Heineken 0.0.

In a Super Bowl ad for Diageo’s (DGE.L) Crown Royal, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl sits in a music studio sipping a glass of whiskey before declaring “let’s get back to work.”

While more alcohol brands are in, auto makers and car retailers are largely out compared to recent years, which Taylor sees as a sign of the struggling economy and supply chain disruptions.

In one of the few auto ads announced ahead of the game, actor Will Ferrell touts a new partnership between GM (GM.N) and Netflix (NFLX.O) to feature more electric vehicles in the streamer’s movies and shows. Ferrell takes an electric car through romantic scenes from “Bridgerton,” while dressed as Dustin from “Stranger Things,” and as he fights through a horde of zombies.

“If you’re going to get swarmed by an army of the dead, why not get swarmed in an EV?” Ferrell says.

HAM AND CHEESE?

Hellmann’s mayonnaise is one of the few advertisers expected to promote a cause, reprising its message from previous years about reducing food waste.

But even that Super Bowl ad will strike a lighter tone, featuring Jon Hamm and Brie Larson as the actors with food-related names are shrunken and find themselves in a refrigerator with a jar of Hellmann’s.

Some stars will poke fun at themselves or their careers in Super Bowl ads.

In a spot for Busch Light, singer Sarah McLachlan, known for her famously sad ASPCA commercials, asks viewers to donate to “helpless animals” while in a tent in the wilderness, before realizing the “dog” next to her is actually a wolf.

Website builder Squarespace's (SQSP.N) ad features multiple versions of actor Adam Driver being interviewed for a mockumentary about the making of the Super Bowl commercial and working opposite himself. “I thought it was going to be really great, because I don’t like any other actors,” he says.

Driver told Reuters he agreed to do the commercial because of the unique humor.

“It’s funny," he said, "but it’s just three degrees off, which I always find more interesting.”

Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas Editing by Bill Berkrot

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