Super Bowl Commercials: To Address or Avoid the Pandemic?

The year’s biggest TV advertising day will include nods to a difficult time — and Dolly Parton.

Some of the biggest players on Super Bowl Sunday won’t be wearing helmets. They’re the company executives and ad makers who will be monitoring the reaction to the big-budget commercials that will have their television debuts before an expected audience of 100 million viewers.

They are likely to be more jittery than usual this year. In addition to having made a very expensive bet — CBS charged about $5.5 million for 30 seconds of ad time — people who work in marketing have been worried about the tone they should take during a pandemic that has killed nearly 450,000 Americans. Brands that decide on a somber approach risk reminding viewers of what they had hoped to escape for a few hours, and the ones that try to be funny could seem out of step.

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