Advertisers eye winning Super Bowl strategy

The Super Bowl is expected to draw more than 110 million US viewers, and a 30-second advertising spot on the Fox network will cost an estimated $5 million (AFP Photo/Tim Warner) (Getty/AFP)

Washington (AFP) - There's the new "Wonder Woman" actress in action and a sexed-up Mr. Clean. And some political messages too -- but only if you pay close attention.

Sunday's Super Bowl is not just the biggest US sporting event, it's also the most important event of the year for advertisers. For some, the clash of top marketers overshadows the premier American football game.

The Super Bowl is expected to draw more than 110 million US viewers, and a 30-second spot on the Fox network will cost an estimated $5 million.

This offers both challenges and risks for brands, according to Tim Calkins, professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, who leads a Super Bowl ad review with his students.

Calkins said the event -- a matchup in Houston between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons -- draws in many people who are not football fans, giving the ads greater prominence.

"A lot of people aren't interested in the game, and many of them focus on the ads more than the game itself," he said.

"This is a rare opportunity to reach a huge amount of the US population at one time. There's nothing anywhere that comes close to this for marketers."

Brands are pulling out all the stops to stand out.

Hyundai, the South Korean automaker, hired film director Peter Berg, known for "Patriots Day" and "Deepwater Horizon," to create a 90-second "documentary" filmed and produced entirely during the game.

"We wanted to push the creativity and storytelling even further," said Hyundai marketing chief Dean Evans.

Another "live" ad will be created for Snickers with actor Adam Driver, which will follow a 36-hour livestream by the Mars brand on its own site and on Facebook.

- An immigrant's tale -

Some advertisers also appear to be making an end run around the ban on overtly political ads.

One of them is Budweiser, whose ad tells a 60-second story about its founder, Adolphus Busch, and his journey as a German immigrant -- a theme set to make waves as debate rages over US immigration policy.

"This commercial shows the start of Budweiser's journey, and while it is set in the 1800s, it's a story we believe will resonate with today's entrepreneurial generation -- those who continue strive for their dreams," said Ricardo Marques, vice president of the Anheuser-Busch beer brand.

The brewer "told us they wanted to celebrate those who embody the American spirit,” said Mike Byrne of the agency Anomaly, which created the ad called "Born the Hard Way."

Ads seen as too political or provocative can be rejected, and home improvement retailer 84 Lumber was forced to revise its original concept, which had depicted a border wall.

The ad, which aims to recruit new employees, originally included a wall blocking people looking for work -- an image deemed too sensitive in light of President Donald Trump's plan for a wall on the border with Mexico.

Audi's "Daughter" ad also offers political overtones with a story of a girl competing in a cart race and a message of equal pay for women.

- Mr. Clean gets dirty -

At the provocative end of the ad spectrum, Procter & Gamble turns Mr. Clean into a household sex symbol in the spot dubbed "Cleaner of Your Dreams."

"Mr. Clean is showing off his strong and sexy side, and hopefully even inspiring men across America to pick up a mop and bucket themselves," said P&G vice president Martin Hettich.

"Wonder Woman" actress Gal Gadot joins her "Furious 7" partner Jason Stratham in an action-packed spot for website builder created by French director Louis Leterrier, known for his "Transporter" and "Incredible Hulk" films.

Some memorable spots from previous Super Bowls include Apple's dystopian 1984 Ridley Scott ad launching the Macintosh, a 2011 ad celebrating Chrysler's return from bankruptcy and Budweiser's 2014 "puppy love" commercial showing a Clydesdale horse befriended by the canine.

Some ads have done more harm than good: a notorious 2015 Nationwide Insurance ad featuring a young child who explains how he will miss out on life's experiences because he is dead missed its target by a long shot.

This year, newcomers such as Australian winemaker Yellow Tail (helped by a kangaroo) will join well-known brands such as Intel, TurboTax and Avocados from Mexico and several automakers and consumer brands.

Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University, said the Super Bowl offers a unique opportunity to promote or reposition a brand.

He noted brand boosts from Super Bowl ads such as E-Trade, which launched its talking baby ad in 2008, and web hosting firm Go Daddy, with its scantily clad woman testifying before Congress.

"The key has always been to have something that is not expected, not typical of the category," Chiagouris said.

The ads are worth it, "if you put the creative effort into it," he said.

"If it's not creative, if it's been seen before, it's a waste of money."