01/27/2015 05:19 EST | Updated 03/29/2015 05:59 EDT

Super Bowl ads aim for sentiment over sex

Several factors have contributed to sluggish Super Bowl ad sales this year.

For starters, the price of a 30-second spot has risen to $4.5 million US from $4 million last year. The game’s image has been tarnished by the NFL’s domestic violence scandals. Most significant of all is a growing realization that Super Bowl ads can be a bad investment.

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A dog helped Volkswagen launch its redesigned Beetle in the 2012 Super Bowl, which illustrates two current trends. 

Research indicates that Super Bowl ads perform below average in brand awareness and purchase intent compared to much cheaper ads running the rest of year. And car ads are among the worst performers. 

After playing a prominent role in many Super Bowls, VW is reportedly sitting out Sunday's show, along with GM, Lincoln, Jaguar, Honda and Acura.

The only ads that actually do well are for new, unfamiliar products, and ads that generate emotion.

Which brings us back to dogs.

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Last year’s winner of the Super Bowl Ad Meter — which measures viewer favourites — was Budweiser’s Puppy Love, a spot that shamelessly tugged at heartstrings by depicting the relationship between a puppy and a Clydesdale.

While in the past, sexual desire was more popular, today it’s teary-eyed sentiment.

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Toyota’s Super Bowl ad will be an inspirational story from Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy.

Seven out of 10 finalists in this year’s Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest feature babies or kids, proven sentiment generators.

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After spending so much on the game, this year’s marketers definitely want ads that generate results. So many are opting for emotion, which tends to bypass our conscious mind and go directly into our subconscious.

This builds warm feelings for a brand we may not even be aware of until we see the product in a store.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.