Super Bowl Ads Go Healthy: Selling Yogurt With A Steamy Kiss

Jan 31, 2014
Originally published on January 31, 2014 7:58 am

We're all accustomed to Super Bowl ads for chips and soda and beer.

But it's a new day. And, this year, we'll also get pitched on healthier fare.

For starters, there will be lots of yogurt ads — both Dannon and Chobani will make a play for game-time viewers. Pistachios will make their debut. And Cheerios will keep it interesting, too.

Now, in order to overcome the better-for-you snooze factor, companies are turning to sex appeal, star power and intimate father-daughter moments to create a buzz.

Take the Dannon ad for its Greek-style Oikos. The vibe is decidedly steamy. It stars actor John Stamos (who starred in the TV sitcom Full House in the early '90s, around the same time he was named one of People magazine's most beautiful people).

In the ad, Stamos has a dab of yogurt kissed from his lip by a beautiful woman.

Now, sales of yogurt have grown steadily in recent years. And moms and kiddos are eating plenty of it. So who is Dannon trying to appeal to here?

Everyone, it turns out. With a huge audience on Sunday, spanning multiple generations, Dannon hopes to catch the attention of lots of folks.

But "the big opportunity for us is with 20- and 30-somethings," says Art D'Elia, vice president of marketing at Dannon.

Meanwhile, General Mills has already generated buzz for its ad slated to air Sunday, which features a bi-racial family.

Don't look for any talk about nutrition or taste in this ad. The pitch is for something bigger than just a bowl of cereal.

The aim is to promote family together time. General Mills has joined efforts with a non-profit, The Family Dinner Project, which is promoting the same message. The joint project is called the Family Breakfast Project.

"It's important for us to be more than ... a circular O, that's made of oats and doesn't have a lot of sugar," Doug Martin, marketing manager for Cheerios, told us.

When families sit around the breakfast table, it's the experience that he hopes folks will connect to the Cheerios brand.

Now, how to jazz up nuts?

The folks at Wonderful Pistachios are hoping that funnyman Stephen Colbert can help boost their brand.

Just don't expect Colbert to educate us on the fiber and protein content of nuts. Nope. This spot is likely to be much more playful.

So, if companies are increasingly pitching more healthful foods, why don't we hear much about, well healthfulness?

Advertising and marketing expert Bob McKinnon of Galewill Design says there's a risk of coming off as preachy, which isn't so effective.

Health is not as important a motivator when it comes to getting consumers to buy as "appealing to people at a direct, human level," McKinnon told us.

So, playing to people's emotions, to sex appeal, or to an ideal — such as a strong family bond — can all be powerful ways to connect with consumers, McKinnon says.

Now, of course, the Super Bowl ad line-up still includes lots of pitches for beer, chips and chocolate. For instance, M&Ms didn't miss the chance to capitalize on twerking, Miley Cyrus-style.

And a few new Dorito ads are scheduled to air.

This one elicited quite a reaction from my colleagues here. Lots of us at The Salt agreed: We were grossed out. For us, it didn't pass the taste test. But maybe an ick vibe makes it more memorable?

We asked McKinnon.

"There are a lot of young people and young guys who [will be] watching the Super Bowl who are probably going to find that hilarious."

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There's been some encouraging news lately about changing eating habits in the United States. According to the USDA, Americans are consuming slightly fewer calories each day and eating a little more healthy stuff.

Some big food companies are on top of this trend as you may be able to tell. This Super Bowl Sunday you may notice that television ads for healthier fare, such as yogurt, nuts and whole grain cereal, are right up there with ads for chips and beer. Now in fairness, healthy food has always been advertised at the Super Bowl. It's Bud Light, Bud Light.

But this is going somewhere new. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, the interesting thing is how these healthier products are being pitched.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: On Sunday, Cereal giant General Mills will be spending millions of dollars to advertise a low-salt, low-sugar O-shaped oat. Yup, Cheerios. They've been around for generations. But forget the Saturday cartoon era, to sell them today, it's a whole new ballgame.


AUBREY: So here's the scene. A little girl and her dad are counting Cheerios at the breakfast table.


AUBREY: Then, comes the fourth Cheerio...



AUBREY: What the ad is pitching is the value of family time, being together. There's no talk of nutrition or taste. The ad is trying to say, hey, connect our brand, Cheerios, with the experience of sharing breakfast together.

General Mills has even joined efforts with a nonprofit group that is promoting the same message.



AUBREY: Ad makers call this kind of campaign value-driven marketing. Companies are trying to build broader messages and emotional ties to their products. After all, no one wants to be told that Cheerios are good for you.

Here's marketing and advertising consultant Bob McKinnon.

BOB MCKINNON: So I think that companies have found that when they're talking about marketing health is that talking about the health aspect is not as important a motivation for buying something as appealing to us on a very sort of direct human level.

AUBREY: Using emotion - or in the case of Dannon yogurt, which has also snapped up Super Bowl air time using good-old sex appeal.

Again, the scene is a breakfast table. There's an attractive woman and a good-looking guy who's got a dab of yogurt on his lip. The camera moves in.


AUBREY: She leans in to kiss it off.


AUBREY: It's flirtatious, and it gets steamier.


AUBREY: Ad man Bob McKinnon chuckles at the play on words.


MCKINNON: Yeah. Well, who knew so many yogurt eaters watching the Super Bowl, right?

AUBREY: Or future yogurt eaters, more like it. Dannon says they hope to sell more millennials on their brand. McKinnon says we associate the Super Bowl with beer and soda and chip ads, but...

MCKINNON: There's a move in a different direction this year, where we'll be seeing as many yogurt ads as Coke ads. It's just really fascinating.

AUBREY: McKinnon says other companies are hoping to win consumers over to healthier products using star power. Take for instance nuts. Wonderful Pistachios are new to the Super Bowl. And the brand has turned to funny man Stephen Colbert to create a buzz on Sunday night.



AUBREY: No need to talk about the protein or fiber.


AUBREY: Wonderful Pistachios hopes Colbert will make their nuts cool.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.