NEW YORK (AP) — From a strange creature called "Puppymonkeybaby" to a tear-inducing Audi ad, Super Bowl ads ran the gamut this year from offbeat humor to heartfelt messages.
On advertising's biggest night, Chrysler celebrated Jeep with an ad featuring black-and-white portraits of veterans, kids and pop icons. In Audi's spot, a depressed, aging astronaut remembers his joy for life by driving an Audi sports car with his son. And in a quirky Doritos ad, a fetus in a sonogram appears to rocket out of the womb to chase a bag of chips the mother angrily tossed away.
The goal for advertisers: to stand out and win over the 114 million-plus people watching the big game on Super Bowl Sunday, much the way the Denver Broncos triumphed over the Carolina Panthers. With ads costing a record $5 million for 30 seconds this year, the stakes are high to stand out from the 40-plus advertisers and be remembered.
In general, advertisers played it safe with universally liked celebrities such as Anthony Hopkins (TurboTax) and Ryan Reynolds (Hyundai), cute animals and pro-America themes.
"There's relatively little going over the top," said David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer at advertising agency MRY.
Offbeat humor reigned with a creature called "Puppymonkeybaby" — pretty much exactly what it sounds like — in an ad for Mountain Dew's Kickstart. The ad sought to show that three great things go together, as Kickstart combines Mountain Dew, juice and caffeine.
"It's on my list of the weirdest ad of the night, but it's very catchy and people will be talking about it," said Kelly O'Keefe, a marketing professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Heartfelt messages were in abundance, too. SunTrust urged people to take a breath and feel better about their financial health. BMW's Mini urged people to "defy labels."
Most ads managed to avoid the somber tone struck last year, when an ad for Nationwide about preventable household accidents bummed out many viewers.
Still, there were a couple of misfires. Two pharmaceutical ads highlighted unappealing digestive conditions. One promoted an anti-diarrhea medication Xifaxan with a small-intestines mascot taking a seat at the Super Bowl. Another sought to raise awareness about "opioid-induced constipation."
"This just isn't a topic that people want to hear about during a Super Bowl," said Villanova University marketing professor Charles Taylor.
Mountain Dew's ad might have been the weirdest ad of the night, but Doritos' ad also seemed likely to divide viewers. The spot showed a couple during a sonogram. When the mother throws away a bag of Doritos, the fetus seems to zoom after it, to the consternation of all present.
The ad made light of touchy and polarizing subjects like pregnancy, abortion and miscarriage. But brand experts said the ad worked for Doritos and did what it was intended to do — generate buzz.
"The use of a fetus clamoring for Doritos on a sonogram is risky and may offend some, but social media activity was off the charts for this ad and many consumers found it to be hilarious," said Charles Taylor, a Villanova University marketing professor.
O'Keefe added, "It caught you a little off guard, but it fit the brand."
Brian Kearney, from Morris County, New Jersey, was watching the game with about 15 people and said the ad was a hit with his friends.
"I thought it was hysterical," he said. "We all cracked up."
Other ads with offbeat humor: Bud Light featured Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen traveling around America promoting "The Bud Light Party." A Shock Top ad showed actor T.J. Miller trading insults with the brewery's talking orange wedge mascot. And the outdoor goods-and-clothing company Marmot showed a man palling around with an actual marmot he appears to be falling for, all to illustrate falling in love with the outdoors.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Eight years after the financial meltdown, financial companies are feeling more comfortable promoting their products and services. Six advertised during the Super Bowl — SunTrust Banks, PayPal, Social Finance Inc., Quicken Loans, Intuit's general brand and Intuit's TurboTax.
Most promoted optimistic messages about money. TurboTax, for instance, enlisted Anthony Hopkins to get out the message that you can file your taxes for free with TurboTax. PayPal's music-video style ad asked people to embrace "New Money."
"We're officially over the mourning of 2008 (financial crisis)," said Mediapost columnist Barbara Lippert.
Some advertisers created mini-movies.
Toyota went long with a 90-second ad depicting bank robbers who use a Prius 4 to escape from police. LG enlisted Liam Neeson in a futuristic spot showing off LG's new TVs. Hyundai's "The Chase" ad echoed "The Revenant" as it showed people escaping grizzly bears by using Hyundai's remote-start feature.
"Super Bowl advertisers are sticking with light themes," said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "Last year we had serious ads about fathers and mortality. This year the ads are funny and creative."