One word describes Super Bowl advertisers: panic.
The pressure to succeed — to stand out as the best Super Bowl advertiser and have your ad go viral — has never been greater. At a record $4 million per 30 seconds of air time, the pressure to win the world's most public advertising competition is no less intense than the pressure on the teams to win the Big Game.
For some 35 advertisers expected to air about 60 ads in the Fox broadcast expected to be watched by more than 100 million viewers, the odds against of walking off with the most celebrated commercial — the winner of USA TODAY'S Super Bowl Ad Meter — are steep.
How to get a creative edge? Each year, Super Bowl advertisers examine societal trends before crafting their Big Game spots. The ads tend to reflect the culture whose attention they so desperately want. So here are the Top 10 trends of 2014's Super Bowl ads:
• Dreams come true. For the players on the field, the Big Dream, of course, is to win the Super Bowl. But Super Bowl viewers have very personal dreams, too, and several advertisers will try to latch onto those.Who hasn't dreamed of quitting their jobs? GoDaddy.com's Super Bowl spot will focus on one gutsy woman who will announce that she's quitting her job to start her own company. Not even her boss knows yet.
An Anheuser-Busch spot zeroes in on the secret dream of many veterans who return home from war: a hero's welcome. Lt. Chuck Nadd expected only to see his girlfriend on his return to Winter Park, Fla. But the ad chronicles how the unsuspecting soldier was blown away by a whole-town parade, complete with the Budweiser Clydesdales trotting him through it.
• Celebrities in bunches. Hard to believe, but there was a time when one celebrity per Super Bowl commercial was sufficient. Nowadays, celebrities galore seem to be oozing from every other ad. Dannon, for example, reunites some of the Full Housesitcom cast for its ad. Not to be outdone, Anheuser-Busch has packed Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Cheadle, Reggie Watts and a yet-to-be-named rock band into one Super Bowl spot. Celebrities in bunches don't have to be human, either. Toyota surrounds actor Terry Crews with more than a half-dozen Muppets in its ad.
• Good ol' days. No one knows just when those days were, but it seems everyone wants to go back to them. For Volkswagen, it's back to 1946, when the classic film It's a Wonderful Life showed the world how wannabe angels get their wings. In this ad, the wings are earned by VW engineers when one of the cars they designed hits the 100,000-mile mark. The wings show up at the darndest times in the oddest places.
• Save the world. Nothing like watching a Super Bowl ad, then downloading a cool song, as a way to help others. Bank of America has linked up with do-gooder group (RED) and band U2 to donate a pile of cash (up to $2 million) for AIDS prevention in a commercial featuring U2's new song.
• Family time: The make-up of the American family may be swiftly changing, but ads that focus on special family moments are a traditional way to snatch the attention of Super Bowl viewers. A Cheerios spot brings back Gracie, the young commercial star whose father is black and whose mother is white. In the ad, Dad uses Cheerios to show Gracie how the family is about to grow from three to four — because Mom is pregnant.
A touchy-feely Hyundai spot rewinds a young man's life to show all the heroic moments when his dad jumps in to save him from harm.
• Show time. The Super Bowl is the broadcast behemoth for big-budget ads. Jaguar's 60-second spot tosses three famous British actors known for playing villains — including Sir Ben Kingsley — into a movie-quality car, helicopter and jet chase scene through London directed by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper.
No less extravagant is Kia's over-the-top commercial with a Matrix theme, which brings Laurence Fishburne, the film's co-star, into the mix with pyrotechnics.
• Less cheesecake. For better or for worse, this will be a Super Bowl that shows a little less skin. GoDaddy, concerned about its image being enmeshed with large breasts, has backed away from that theme.
In SodaStream's spot, Scarlett Johansson slips out of her bathrobe to sip soda, but is wearing a sexy, full-length dress. Everything is left up to the imagination. And in a Dannon spot, it's hinted that a woman who licks the yogurt off the lips of actor John Stamos is thinking about licking the yogurt he appears to have dropped elsewhere on his body.
• Hunks R Us. Not just any hunk will do for this Super Bowl — they've got to be truly muscle-bound. In one GoDaddy spot, a veritable Hunk Herd goes out for a morning jog — only to be joined by Danica Patrick, also is muscle-bound. If there's a Hunk Hall of Fame, it would likely enshrine David Beckham, who stars in a spot for his undergarment line sold by H&M. A muscular, bare-chested dude also is the focus of a spot for Squarespace, a website creator. Even the muscle-laden Hulk Hogan, the wrestling champ from the 1980s, has tweeted that he's starring in a Super Bowl spot for an advertiser he won't name.
• Music to our ears. In an iTunes era, Big Game-watchers may recognize more songs in Super Bowl ads than players on the field. Yes, that's Bob Dylan crooning I Want You in the Chobani yogurt spot. Then there's the sweet, father-and-son Hyundai commercial backed up by Count on Me by Bruno Mars, who also stars in the Super Bowl's Pepsi-sponsored. half-time show. In a feel-good spot for Bank of America in support of AIDS relief, U2 will debut its new song Invisible. The Anheuser-Busch commercial about a puppy that befriends a horse features the song Let Her Go by Passenger.
• Heart-string pluckers. Sometimes, the Super Bowl spot with the biggest punch comes with the softest touch. There will be several this go-round. Anheuser-Busch is the perennial expert, and this time has created a touching tale of a puppy that falls head-over-paws for a horse.
At least one other spot — which General Motors won't discuss until after it airs during the game — is a true tearjerker whose simple-but-passionate imagery could be talked about for years to come.