Super Bowl signals return to <BR>humorous ads in the US

NEW YORK - American companies are making a return to humorous ads, after taking a more sombre tone in the wake of September 11.

After the terrorist attacks in the US and during the war in Afghanistan, advertising agencies ran serious, patriotic spots, shying away from light-hearted ads, which may have been interpreted as being in bad taste. In September, Coca-Cola pulled a campaign with the slogan "Life tastes good", while the Bank of America was compelled to alter a humorous script mid-shoot to bring it in line with the public mood.

Advertisers have now sensed that audiences are ready for a return to funny ads, although they are aware that certain sensitivities remain.

Super Bowl XXXVI, to be held in New Orleans on February 3, is the highlight of the advertising year in the US, with commercial breaks often achieving higher ratings than the game itself. Companies pay close to £1.5m for 30-second spots, which will be aired to an audience of millions on free-to-air broadcaster Fox.

Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser lager enjoys one of the best reputations for amusing Super Bowl ads, including the famous "whassup" campaign by ad agency DDB Chicago, which debuted in 2000 and returned in 2001. A 2002 sequel will be greatly anticipated.

Levi Strauss has made advertising history by allowing the American public to choose which new Levi's commercial will air during the Super Bowl.

The challenge for companies will be to find the right tone. At Super Bowl XXV, during the Gulf War, Coca-Cola was criticised for airing a preachy commercial, implying wartime was the wrong time for jokes.

The Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, starting in February, will also be a primetime for ads, likely to focus on flag-wrapping and patriotism to win the emotional response from viewers.

However, Cheryl Burman, chairwoman of ad agency Leo Burnett, told the LA Times it is easier to hit the funny bone than gently tug at heartstrings.

"You can't do that kind of work right now if it doesn't have a smile, if it doesn't lift you at the end," Berman said. "Laughter and tears are very close together, and that's where people's heads are right now."

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