'Dad-vertising' scores a Super Bowl touchdown

Washington (AFP) - Commercials that cast dads in a positive light are standing out in this year's crop of Super Bowl television ads -- alongside cute puppies and a burger-eating buxom blonde.

More than 70 advertisers are paying a reported $4.5 million for 30 seconds of air time during Sunday's American football classic that is expected to draw 115 million viewers -- or more than one in three Americans.

"You're reaching the last mass audience that's left on TV," said Keith Quesenberry, a professor of marketing and social media at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and an expert on Super Bowl advertising.

In a bid to stimulate water-cooler chatter and whip up social media buzz, many ads -- or teasers -- have been posted online in the run-up to Sunday's showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.

And in the wake of the domestic violence scandals that have rocked the National Football League (NFL) this season, "dad-vertising" that celebrates the joys of fatherhood is getting a lion's share of attention.

NFL players Kurt Warner, LaVar Arrington and Fred Jackson star in a Toyota spot in which they wax nostalgic about their fathers and the lessons they learned from them about raising children.

"You're never as good as you think you are. You're never as bad as you think you are. You're somewhere right in the middle," says Arrington alongside his slightly bashful young daughter.

Nissan commissioned seven YouTube personalities to whip up light-hearted, family-friendly online teasers for its first Super Bowl spot since 1997, around the Twitter hashtag #withdad.

- 'Showing he cares' -

Dove, pitching its personal care products for men, meanwhile goes for the heartstrings, with a succession of happy little kids shouting "Daddy!" before the ad asks: "What makes a man stronger? Showing that he cares."

Father-friendly ads could be a reaction "to all the negative domestic violence stories" that have cast a pall over the NFL, Lisa Granatstein, editor of Adweek magazine in New York, told AFP.

But Zach Rosenberg, who blogs about modern American fatherhood at 8BitDad.com, suspected the trend was a sign that "brands are acknowledging that fathers are consumers more and more."

The NFL itself is behind a harrowing ad in which a woman calls for pizza on a police hotline. A quick-witted dispatcher figures out she in fact has an abusive partner in the house and needs help now.

Quesenberry told AFP his research has found that the most memorable spots are the ones that tell a full story in five acts, like a Greek drama, from introducing characters thorough climax and denouement.

A textbook example: last year's wildly popular "Puppy Love," a tear-jerker from Budweiser about a cuddly yellow Labrador puppy's special friendship with the brewery's signature Clydesdale draft horses.

- Most talked about -

This year, Budweiser is playing off the same theme -- only this time, instead of the horses confronting humans who dare take the puppy away, they break out of their stables to rescue the lost pooch from a snarling wolf.

Less than a week before the game, it is already this year's most talked about Super Bowl ad online, with 163,000 mentions on Twitter as of Thursday, according to Brandwatch, a social media monitoring service.

To snare those few souls still not on Facebook, Budweiser is embracing an old-school marketing technique: touching street posters of dog and horse, as seen in Washington's gentrifying Petworth district.

In second place was another dog story that didn't pan out so well for website hosting service GoDaddy, in which a lost pooch called Buddy comes home to discover he's been sold online.

More than 42,000 animal lovers signed an online petition accusing GoDaddy of "encouraging puppy mills," prompting the company -- a regular Super Bowl advertiser -- to pull the ad and promise another, funny ad for Sunday.

"When people love a Super Bowl spot, they share it; when they loathe a commercial, they often share that too," Steven John of www.superbowl-commercials.org, an online treasury of Super Bowl ads, told AFP.

Testing the contentious theory that sex still sells, Carl's Jr. raised eyebrows with curvy swimsuit model Charlotte McKinney biting into the fast food chain's "all natural" hormone-free beef burger.

Innuendo fills her nude stroll through a neighborhood farmer's market, with strategically placed tomatoes and melons leaving little to the imagination.

"It was such an honor to get that spot," McKinney told Esquire magazine. "I didn't even think it was going to be in the Super Bowl. It was just another day at work."