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Super Bowl ads tread lightly so as not to offend millions of viewers

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - What Super Bowl ads will people discuss over the water cooler a day after the big game?

There were no crude jokes. Sexual innuendo was kept to a minimum. And uncomfortable scenes were missing.

In short, there wasn't much shock value

Sure, RadioShack poked fun at its image by starring 80s icons like Teen Wolf in its ad. And Coca-Cola struck an emotional chord by showcasing people of different diversities in its spot. As did Chrysler, with its "Made in America" message.

But with a 30-second Super Bowl commercial fetching $4 million and more than 108 million viewers expected to tune in to Sunday night's game, advertisers tried to keep it family friendly with socially conscious statements, patriotic messages and light humour. After all, shocking ads in previous years have not always been well received. (Think: GoDaddy.com's ad that featured a long, up-close kiss was at the bottom of the most popular ad lists last year.)

"A lot of brands were going with the safety from the start," said David Berkowitz, chief marketing officer for digital ad agency MRY.

Viewers had a mixed reaction to the ads. Keith Harris, who was watching the Super Bowl in Raleigh, N.C., said he appreciated the safer ads. "The ads are less funny, but it's easier to watch the Super Bowl with your family," he said.

Conversely, Paul Capelli, who lives in West Chester, Pa., found most ads dull: "The best spots were like a Payton Manning-to-Wes Welker pass play — they were there, but too few and those that connected left you wanting something a bit more spectacular."

CONNECTING WITH A CAUSE

Many advertisers played it safe by promoting a cause or focusing on sentimental issues.

Chevrolet's ad showed a couple driving through the desert in remembrance of World Cancer Day. And Bank of America turned its ad into a virtual video for singing group U2's new single "Invisible" to raise money for an AIDS charity. The song will be a free download on iTunes for 24 hours following the game and Bank of America will donate $1 each time it is downloaded to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

Meanwhile, a Microsoft ad focused on how its technology helps people in different ways. The ad is narrated by Steve Gleason, a former prof football player who is living with ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. He uses a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet running eye gazer technology to speak.

And an Anheuser-Busch "Hero's Welcome" ad was an ode to U.S. soldiers. The spot showed how Anheuser-Busch helped prepare big celebration that included a parade with Clydesdales as a surprise for a soldier returning from Afghanistan.

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

Many advertisers took the safe route by playing up their Americana roots.

Coca-Cola's ad showed scenes of natural beauty and families of different diversities. The tune of "America the Beautiful" could be heard in different languages in the spot.

Chrysler also went with a U.S.A theme. It had a two-minute ad starring music legend Bob Dylan discussing the virtues of having cars built in Detroit, a theme the car maker has stuck with in previous ads with rapper Eminem and actor Clint Eastwood. "Let Germany brew your beer. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car," Dylan said in the ad.

Barbara Lippert, ad critic and Mediapost.com, said the ads were an attempt to connect with viewers on a more personal level. "We want to be able to feel through all these screens and through all the hype there's a human element and in the end were all human," said Barbara Lippert, ad critic and Mediapost.com.

Not everyone was a fan. "I didn't like it very much," said Crystal Booker, who lives in Rock Hill, S.C., about the Chrysler ad, in particular. "It was nostalgic but nothing that I hadn't seen before."

LIGHT HUMOR

Jokes were also tamer. "A few years ago we had a lot of physical slapstick, this year there's a lot less of that," said Berkowitz, with digital ad agency MRY.

Even advertisers that typically go with more crude humour toned it down. GoDaddy.com's ad, for instance, showed it helping a small-business owner quit her job. "Women were fed up and parents were fed up and advertisers listened," said Mediapost.com's Lippert.

Other advertisers went with light humour as well. There were mini sitcom reunions: in an ad for Dannon Oikos, the "Full House" cast reunited. And "Seinfeld" alums Jerry, George and even Newman came back to Tom's diner in New York City for an ad for Jerry Seinfield's show "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

Stephen Colbert appeared in a pair of 15-second ads for Wonderful Pistachios. In one he predicted the nuts would sell themselves because "I'm wonderful, they're wonderful." He was back a few seconds later covered in bright green branded messages because the nuts hadn't sold out in 30 seconds.

Another light-humoured ad came from RadioShack, which featured 1980s pop culture figures including Teen Wolf, Chucky, Alf and Hulk Hogan, destroying a store and a voiceover that said: "The 80s called, they want their store back. It's time for a new RadioShack."

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