REUTERS: Anheuser-Busch Inbev's Bud Light stole the show with a tie-up with HBO's "Game of Thrones," during the Super Bowl on Sunday, while robots and artificial intelligence were a big theme for several advertisers targeting what is expected to be the year's largest TV audience.
Brands generally stuck to a lighter tone than in previous years, avoiding political messages and focused on either humor or uplifting themes, said Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.
Bud Light and HBO, a division of AT&T Inc's WarnerMedia, staged a medieval joust in a Game of Thrones-like world that ended with the death of the "Bud Knight."
The ad plugging the final season of the hit show garnered nearly 150 million social impressions by halftime, or the estimated reach of the brand pages and ads across social media, according to iSpot, which provides TV ad measurements for marketers.
"They're clearly trying to resonate with younger consumers and using the partnership with Game of Thrones to do that," Calkins said.
In another ad, the beer brand also touted its ingredients and the fact that it does not contain corn syrup, while calling out rival brands Miller Lite and Coors Light, which do contain the sweetener that has been criticized by health advocates.
The commercial stirred controversy, with the National Corn Growers Association firing off an angry tweet in response.
".@BudLight America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you. Our office is right down the road! We would love to discuss with you the many benefits of corn!" tweeted the advocacy group.
Elsewhere, robots and artificial intelligence themes - both uplifting and dystopian - played a major role among ad spots that averaged US$5.2 million for a 30-second slot.
SimpliSafe, a home security company, warned audiences of AI and featured a sinister smart speaker in its commercial, with the theme that home is where people should feel safe.
Other brands including Google and car maker Mercedes highlighted technological innovations in their products like language translation on Google and voice-activated commands in Mercedes cars that either connected people or made life easier.
"It really is the year of technology for the Super Bowl," Calkins said.
Amazon poked fun at fictional malfunctions of its Alexa voice powered artificial intelligence. The ad featured actor Harrison Ford trying to stop his dog, outfitted with an Alexa-powered dog collar, from repeatedly barking online orders for dog food.
Female celebrities and themes of women's empowerment were also prevalent this year.
Dating app Bumble's commercial featured American tennis star Serena Williams, and marketed directly to the female audience.
In keeping with non-political commercials, the Super Bowl featured no mention of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, known for kneeling on the field to protest police brutality.
Musical artist Rihanna declined to perform during the Super Bowl halftime show in support of Kaepernick.
(Reporting by Sheila Dang and Amy Tennery; Editing by Kenneth Li)