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Super Bowl Movie Ads Tailor-Made to Sequels and Superheroes

For movie studios, the Super Bowl really isn’t their game. Up against Madison Avenue’s creative big guns – and commercials designed to look like movies that feature top stars, targeted to this annual showcase – it’s tough for film ads, which are usually just cut-down versions of the trailers, to compete and break through.

Still, that reality is balanced against the football championship’s unrivaled power as a platform to reach more than 100 million U.S. consumers in one fell swoop, at a moment when they are paying inordinate attention to advertising – particularly men, who are more elusive in ordinary programming. Small wonder it’s an opportunity that Hollywood has struggled to resist, and one they appear to have mastered not through creative but rather the kind of movies that they choose to market.

The summer, after all, is now awash in sequels and the adapted exploits of superheroes. And because virtually all of the films touted during the game now fall into those categories, the spots need only alert consumers to the fact these movies are on the horizon, without necessarily saying anything significant about them, or dazzling the audience with much more than blinding flashes of stuff blowing up.

Of course, advertising during the Super Bowl is no assurance of success. Last year’s game, for example, featured “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7,” which went on to become blockbusters for Universal; and “Tomorrowland,” which laid a giant egg for Disney.

Undaunted, Disney joined in the festivities Sunday, as several studios with major upcoming releases sat this one out. By contrast, Disney featured its updated version of “The Jungle Book” – in a near-silent spot, that downplayed the whole talking-animal thing – and “Captain America: Civil War” during the pregame show. (Coke used Marvel heroes the Hulk and Ant-Man in one of its spots, which felt like a win-win and expanded the company’s footprint.)

Fox made its presence felt as well, giving a push to the long-in-coming “Independence Day: Resurgence,” and what was almost surely the most arresting movie spot of the day, “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

The other movies that joined in employed a similar playbook, with Universal trotting out super-spy “Jason Bourne” and Paramount teasing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.” Warner Bros. might have been a bit too cute, meanwhile, by embedding its plug for “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” within what were identified as Turkish Airlines pre- and post-game spots, highlighting the fictional destinations of Gotham and Metropolis.

All told, the only title that didn’t fall into the sequel or pre-sold bracket was “The Secret Life of Pets,” an animated movie (with a “Despicable Me” pedigree) that Universal saved until the two-minute warning. That seemed odd, if only because a concept aimed at kids, presumably, would have benefited from playing earlier in the evening.

None of the ads felt particularly inspired or tried anything terribly different. But the bottom line is those hardy souls inclined to see another Bourne or Turtles movie don’t exactly need to be briefed extensively on the plot. The goal is simply to build anticipation and provide a taste of spectacle, relying on a kind of marketing shorthand.

The host network, CBS, followed an age-old tradition by loading up with promotional spots for its upcoming programs, although the really big news involved one of its longer-running shows, not a new one: The network used the game to confirm that “The Good Wife” will end its run in May.

Indeed, new programs were scarce within CBS’ self-promotional material, which hewed toward existing series and upcoming events, like the Grammys. The real surprise, though, was that the network didn’t work harder at giving a lift to “Supergirl” – a show that would seem to possess more appeal among men than most CBS dramas, and one that could use the help given its considerable expense, hovering as it is in the ratings version of the Phantom Zone.

Then again, the network might have concluded that on a day filled with sequels and superheroes, its made-for-TV version might have faced a super-sized challenge in terms of standing out from the crowd.

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