An audience expected to be around 100 million. Big companies paying as much as $5.6 million for 30 seconds of advertising time. In addition to deciding the National Football League champion, the Super Bowl is the biggest event of the year for TV commercials.
For the most part, the commercials have were light and bright.
Blasts From the Past
Nostalgia was an early theme, with companies marketing their products with ads that showed love for the ’80s and ’90s.
Cheetos had the rapper MC Hammer and his zoot-suit-inspired pants in an ad that aimed to popularize the word Cheetle, Frito-Lay’s term for the orange dust the snack leaves in its wake.
Squarespace sent Winona Ryder, the Gen X star who has made a comeback thanks to Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” to Winona, Minn., where she was born. Bill Murray, with a sidekick from the rodent family, relived the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day” for Jeep, and Mountain Dew Zero riffed on the 1980 film “The Shining” with an assist from the “Breaking Bad” actor Bryan Cranston.
A commercial for Avocados From Mexico features Molly Ringwald, the star of “Pretty in Pink” and other ’80s comedies.
The nostalgia mixed with sentimentality. And three simple commercials seemed to have left the deepest impression on viewers.
A spot from Google — about the 85-year-old grandfather of a Google employee searching for ways to remember his partner, Loretta — inspired a flood of “I’m not crying, you’re crying” social media posts. New York Life Insurance explored various forms of love using several real couples and relatives, without a celebrity in sight. WeatherTech’s commercial focused on the chief executive’s golden retriever, Scout, and the doctors who saved him from cancer.
A Stunt Ad Lights Up Social Media
After much hype in recent days, Planters ran a commercial showing the funeral of its mascot, the monocled creature Mr. Peanut. Other brand avatars were at the grave site, including the Kool-Aid Man and Mr. Clean. After the Kool Aid creature shed a tear, something sprouted in the dirt. And then a baby version of Mr. Peanut sprang to life, squeaking like a dolphin, saying, “Just kidding, I’m back,” and asking for a monocle. The reaction on social media was not kind.
The unusual Planters campaign, which involved the character dying in a car crash, was put on pause last week, after Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. In recent days, its parent company, Kraft Heinz, swapped the position of a Heinz ad with the Planters ad, putting footage of Mr. Peanut’s funeral before a halftime show that was scheduled to include a tribute to Mr. Bryant.
The Streamers Are Here
The New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spent this Super Bowl as a Hulu spokesman, saying in a commercial for the streaming service that “it’s time to say goodbye to TV as you know it” before slyly adding, “but me, I’m not going anywhere.”
An ad from the short-form streaming service Quibi, featuring bank robbers who pause to watch a quick show on their phone screens, made one thing clear: how to pronounce “Quibi.” (It’s kwi-bee, not kwee-bee.) A spot from Amazon Prime Video is expected late in the game.
Unity Amid Diversity
In other Super Bowl ads, Verizon, Sabra and other companies are emphasizing — and celebrating — what Americans have in common beneath their differences. Don’t we all complain about the same things? Don’t we all defy cultural stereotypes? And don’t we all love hummus?
Those are some of the messages that figure in the sunny portrait of a nation that will emerge from the more than 80 commercials scheduled to appear during the Super Bowl LIV broadcast.
“We’re at a moment in the country where it’s important that we all contribute to things that unite as opposed to things that separate,” said Diego Scotti, the chief marketing officer of Verizon. “It’s a sensitive point — we’re a big company and we have many, many customers, and our intention is in no way, shape or form to have a political message.”
To fill advertising slots costing as much as $5.6 million for 30 seconds — a high — New York Life Insurance and Snickers were among the brands with big-budget commercials showing a wide variety of Americans embracing their differences.
Sabra cast two former contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Kim Chi and Miz Cracker, making it possibly the first Super Bowl commercial to feature drag queens. One Million Moms, a conservative activist group that recently pushed the Hallmark Channel to pull ads featuring brides kissing each other, circulated a petition demanding that the Sabra spot be removed, to no avail.
Companies are also slipping into other companies’ commercials. Pringles paired up with the animated Adult Swim series “Rick and Morty” for an ad filled with horrifying child robots. Tide, which overran the Super Bowl 2018 with crossover commercials, teamed this year with Bud Light and the Fox show “The Masked Singer.” Pop-Tarts, which featured the flowing hair of Jonathan Van Ness of “Queer Eye” in its commercial, called out Hyundai’s Boston-accented spot “Smaht Pahk” by posting on Twitter: “Pahp-Tahts.”
Politics Crashes the TV Party
The first of two 30-second ads from President Trump’s campaign, which together cost more than $11 million, aired at 6:55 p.m. in the first commercial break after kickoff. The spot focused on Alice Marie Johnson, a woman who was serving a life sentence in federal prison on charges related to cocaine distribution and money laundering when her case was brought to Mr. Trump’s attention by Kim Kardashian West, the reality television star. Mr. Trump commuted Ms. Johnson’s sentence in 2018.
It was the first Super Bowl to feature national ads from two presidential candidates, and the political tone of the ads has stood out in a broadcast filled with companies trying to avoid sensitive topics the day before the Democratic caucuses in Iowa.
Just before the second half kickoff, the billionaire presidential candidate Michael R. Bloomberg presented an ad about gun control that featured Calandrian Simpson-Kemp, whose football-loving son died in a shooting in 2013. Mr. Bloomberg has swarmed the Democratic field with more than $275 million in advertising, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. But this is not his first foray into the Super Bowl while talking about gun laws — he did the same in a 2012 ad with Thomas M. Menino, who was then the mayor of Boston.
The Jay-Z Influence
Another exception to the escapist fare is a spot on police shootings. Surprisingly, it comes from an organization that has shied away from the issue: the National Football League. The spot shows the retired 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin reflecting on the 2015 death of his cousin, who was shot by a police officer, and it includes a dramatic re-enactment of the killing.
The commercial promotes the N.F.L.’s Inspire Change initiative, a social outreach program that the league has put together with Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z. Colin Kaepernick — Mr. Boldin’s onetime 49ers teammate — set off an uproar a year after the killing by kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. The N.F.L. struggled with its response for years.
But the great majority of Super Bowl LIV spots are jaunty and optimistic. TurboTax has a commercial involving people of many races, genders, ages and walks of life dancing to a bounce-inflected earworm of a jingle, “All People Are Tax People.”
The mood continues a trend toward tonally light commercials that became pronounced in 2018. In 2017, the first year of President Trump’s administration, Budweiser and Coca-Cola, among other brands, touched on immigration, equal rights and fair pay.
A Bud Light Seltzer commercial posited that the brain of Post Malone — the pop star and songwriter known for melding disparate musical styles — is operated by a diverse group of technicians in a control room who all bear his distinctive tattoos.
Martin Scorsese, who is nominated for an Oscar this year for “The Irishman,” was also involved in a Super Bowl commercial, but not behind the camera. Instead, he appeared in an ad-from Coca-Cola, waiting anxiously at a party for Jonah Hill, whom he had directed in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” to muster enough energy to join him. Mr. Hill, who was cast first, suggested Mr. Scorsese when the company asked him to recommend someone to play the out-of-place friend.
While many ads looked to the past for inspiration, Turkish Airlines and others were fixated on the cosmos. Olay alludes to the first all-female spacewalk last year in an ad featuring Lilly Singh and Busy Philipps with the retired astronaut Nicole Stott. A spot from the home carbonation company SodaStream, which includes a cameo by Bill Nye, showed astronauts finding water on Mars. And Walmart crammed references to “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Mars Attacks!,” “Men in Black” and “Arrival” into its commercial.
Facebook’s first Super Bowl ad is expected to pair Chris Rock with the “Rocky” actor Sylvester Stallone. Microsoft’s ad features Katie Sowers, the San Francisco 49ers assistant coach who will be the first woman and openly gay person to help lead a team to the big game. Other tech ads included Amazon’s commercial with the ubiquitous pitchwoman Ellen DeGeneres.