NEW YORK — Call it Cute Bowl.
Adorable is the name of the game this year as Super Bowl advertisers try to grab your attention. That means lots of "cute" story lines, including a family that's expecting a new baby and a horse that forms a long-lasting bond with a puppy.
The saccharine spots are partly a result of more family-friendly brands like Cheerios and Heinz advertising this year. At the same time, fewer startups that tend to have more provocative commercials are in the advertising game this year.
The trend also is a sign of the times. After widespread criticism of more racy or gross-out ads in recent years, companies are being more careful not to offend the more than 108 million viewers who are expected to tune in on Sunday. That's increasingly important given their large investment A 30-second Super Bowl spot goes an estimated $4 million.
"People want nostalgia and fun and escape," said Barbara Lippert, a columnist at Mediapost, trade publication for the media industry.
Here are five "cute" commercials to watch for:
(1) Anheuser Busch's "Puppy Love" ad shows its iconic Clydesdales bonding with a cute Labrador puppy. The two try desperately to reconnect with each other after their first meeting.
(2) Cheerios is showcasing the same biracial little girl and her parents that were in another ad that debuted last year. The company faced racist comments online when last year's ad was rolled out, but says the overwhelming response was positive.
So Cheerios is bringing the family back in its first Super Bowl ad. In the spot, the father tells his daughter that they're going to have an addition to the family, a baby boy. Then, the little girl strongly suggests they also get a puppy.
"We just fell in love with this family and the big game provided another opportunity to tell a story about family love," says Camille Gibson, vice president of marketing for Cheerios.
(3) CarMax's "Slow Clap" Super Bowl ad shows denizens of a small town congratulating a car buyer with a slow clap. The company also re-enacted the ad for an online video using only puppies that's called "Slow Bark."
(4) Toyota enlists a carful of Muppets singing a "We Ain't Got No Room for Boring" to promote its Highlander SUV.
(5) One of Coca-Cola's two Super Bowl ads features a boy who makes a surprise play in a little league football game and runs to make a touchdown. He then keeps running until he gets to Lambeau Field, where the Green Bay Packers play. A groundskeeper offers him a Coke.
"We go with the story that feels the best for Coke at the right time," says Katie Bayne, Coke's president, North America Brands.