Super Bowl advertisers ‘are on trial’

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NEW YORK — For companies like T-Mobile, TurboTax, Esurance and Wix.com, Sunday night is a $4.5 million moment.

Months of planning and weeks of promotion are culminating in Super Bowl ads premiering in front of more than 100 million viewers — and those viewers are delivering their verdicts via the Internet within seconds.

“Advertisers are on trial via social media,” said media strategist Shari Anne Brill, a former executive at the ad agency Carat.

Well-received ads included BMW’s humorous ad with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel; a serious Coca Cola ad rebuking Internet “haters;” a throw-back Snickers ad starring Danny Trejo and Steve Buscemi; and an almost universally praised Dodge ad featuring senior citizens.

Companies facing more negative reviews — but still lots of chatter about their ads — included Nationwide Insurance, T-Mobile and GoDaddy.

There were lots of ads with babies, lots of ads with dads — and some unusually dark themes on a usually fun-filled occasion.

“With ads about domestic violence, dead kids, blade-runner kids and online bullying, this may be most depressing Super Bowl ever,” Variety senior TV editor Brian Steinberg tweeted.

“That Nationwide ad just knocked me off my chair,” wrote CNNMoney’s Frank Pallotta. It showed a child, back from the dead, speaking about the life he would have lived if he hadn’t been killed in an accident.

The provocative messages were meant to stand out from the dozens of other spots.

Paying an average of $4.5 million for 30 seconds of air time, advertisers during the four quarters of the Super Bowl face extraordinarily high stakes. (And that’s just the price paid to NBC — companies pay huge amounts of money to get the ads produced.)

One ad right before kickoff that drew immediate commentary: a spot by Chevrolet about the wireless Internet capabilities of its Colorado trucks.

“Chevy trucks advertising 4G LTE instead of driving through gratuitous mud. The world has truly gone tech,” Mashable chief strategy officer Adam Ostrow wrote on Twitter.

The all-important first ad position after kick-off belonged to Toyota, which had a feel-good ad starring Paralympic athlete Amy Purdy.

A few minutes later, commenters on Twitter were surprised by an ad for a mobile game called “Game of War.”

The game’s creator, Machine Zone Inc., isn’t alone — mobile developer UCool had a spot promoting its game “Heroes Charge” later in the evening.

Some advertisers have tried to capitalize by releasing their ads days ahead of time, and promoting them with YouTube teasers, Facebook messages and tweets.

“Puppies, laughs, celebrities, sex and family values continue to drive advertising creatives,” said Sean Muller, the CEO of Visible Measures, which keeps track of online views of Super Bowl ads.

What’s different this year, he said, is “the volume of pre-releases/teasers.”

Muller said some advertisers are using Facebook’s relatively new video features to get attention, and it’s “driving up viewing and social activity significantly.”

But “the volume of views and activity on Facebook appears to be an additive, meaning it’s not taking away from activity on other platforms,” like YouTube, Muller said.

“And secondly, some brands aren’t utilizing it yet — I suspect that will change next year.”

Sunday’s game was expected to feature 15 first-time Super Bowl advertisers.

“If you would have told me 10 years ago that Chevy wouldn’t be in the Super Bowl, but that Wix.com or Dove products for men would be, I’d be very surprised,” Richard Kirshenbaum, the CEO of ad agency NSG/SWAT, said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“But there’s a new lineup. There’s a new America,” he added.

Super Bowl regulars like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, and BMW will be present, too.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking ad of the game was the one commissioned by the NFL for its “No More” initiative, intended to stop domestic violence and sexual assault.

“The spot, which features a woman calling 911 and pretending to order a pizza because her husband is in the room, is based on a real 911 call,” said the ad blog Spot Bowl, which called it a “game-changer.”

It said the NFL was giving over “some of the airtime it normally reserves for light-hearted self promos” for the PSA.

Brill noted that the NFL says it is contributing $5 million per year for the next five years to the National Domestic Violence hotline.

“It’s about time,” she said.