After NFL Controversies, Expect a Kinder, Gentler Set of Super Bowl Ads

78% of U.S. sees chance for 'positive social messages'

Despite some saber rattling, not one of the NFL’s 30-plus corporate sponsors, including Procter & Gamble and General Motors, has yanked its deal over the domestic violence scandals swirling around the league. But well over half of Americans and advertising professionals surveyed believe the disturbing issues raised by the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson domestic violence/child abuse cases will help change the creative tone of commercials we'll see during NBC's telecast of Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1.

Roughly 62 percent of Americans and 65 percent of ad pros polled (for a total of 1,500 respondents) believe the domestic violence troubles would impact advertising creative on Super Bowl Sunday, according to a national survey being released today by the 4A's. And 78 percent of Americans and 73 percent of ad execs see this controversial period as an opportunity for brands and companies to promote positive social messages.

Respondents have their own thoughts on how to improve the next batch of Super Bowl commercials during the series of online surveys conducted by research firm Ipsos in October. In: more focus on women, families and social issues. Out: the kind of cartoon violence and fart jokes that advertisers have used to get cheap laughs in the past.

Roughly 34 percent of Americans and 33 percent advertisers want more focus on families. Thirty percent of Americans and 37 percent of ad pros want marketers to address domestic violence.

That means Super Bowl XLIX actually offers an opportunity for the ad business to create “powerful, positive social messages” that hit a “sweet spot” with the biggest TV audience of the year, said Alison Fahey, 4A’s chief marketing officer. “I don’t think everybody should go overboard—and make it the ‘do-gooder’ Super Bowl. But it may not be the year to tackle Betty White in a Snickers spot,” she said. “It may not be the year for that slapstick, semi-violent tone in advertising.”

For its part, the NFL has launched its own “No More” PSAs addressing domestic violence. They star over two dozen current and former players such as Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Cris Carter of ESPN. The league always gets a few free spots from its Super Bowl broadcast partner. NFL spokeswoman Joanna Hunter said the league hasn’t decided what creative it will air during NBC’s broadcast.

While the NFL shield brand has taken a beating in recent months, there’s been no impact on TV audiences. NFL games accounted for 26 of the 30 most-watched shows this fall. At the midpoint of the 2014 season, games were averaging 18 million viewers versus 16.8 million last season. Despite a slowdown by auto advertisers, NBC is 90 percent sold out for Super Bowl XLIX.

More women watch the Super Bowl than the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys combined. The Seattle Seahawks’ victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII was watched by a record 51.3 million women, or about 46 percent of the audience.