Don’t look for #MeToo -- or women -- in the Super Bowl ads

Super Bowl commercials, once the ultimate in frat-boy humor, have evolved over the years to embrace politics and cultural sensitivity. Last year, Audi ran an ad supporting equal pay, and Anheuser-Busch reminded viewers of its immigrant founder.

But this year, many advertising insiders expect the Super Bowl spots to steer clear of the #MeToo movement opposing the sexual harassment and abuse of women, or the NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. In fact, many of the ads may simply feature men doing nonpolitical things, while others will showcase the philanthropic efforts of brands like Budweiser and Hyundai.

Advertising insiders say that Madison Avenue's prior ads highlighting female empowerment may have led to an unexpected backlash. Audi was criticized in the press for running its equal-pay spot while employing few female managers. "Better to be safe than sorry," said one advertising source who has tracked Super Bowl trends for years, noting how many men were being used by marketers to promote their participation.

Advertisers may also be avoiding accusations that they're not portraying women in quite the right light this year by taking the easier route of just casting men.

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Super Bowl 52 food ideas and deals
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Super Bowl 52 food ideas and deals

Applebee’s: 

Get two entrees and appetizer for just $20, or build your own appetizer sampler, starting at $9.69.

Bob Evans: 

Take 25 percent off sitewide with coupon code 0759002688 at BobEvans.com.

Boston Market: 

Join the VIP club for $3 off your next purchase and early access to special deals.

Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill: 

Order a shrimp cocktail, quesadilla or ribs platter for the party — starting at $16.99.

Church’s Chicken: 

Download their mobile app for coupons and exclusive mobile offers.

Dave & Buster’s: 

Enjoy a selection of $5 appetizers in addition to drink specials.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: 

Get a Tailgate Party Pack — which includes brisket, pulled pork, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, rolls and serving utensils — for $99.

Duffy’s Sport Grill: 

Sign up for the MVP program for special deals, rewards points and more.

El Pollo Loco: 

Download the app for special deals, discounts and rewards.

Jersey Mike’s Subs: 

Get free chips and drink with a sub purchase with a printable coupon.

Olive Garden: 

Get a free appetizer when you sign up for the email club.

Outback Steakhouse: 

Sign up for Dine Rewards to get 50 percent off every fourth meal at Outback Steakhouse and other participating restaurants.

Rubio’s Coastal Grill: 

Get a free $10 meal for a catering order of $125 or more.

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro: 

Feed a crowd with 15 percent off catering orders of $300 or more.

Wendy’s: 

Get a Big Meal for just $4. Offer isn’t valid in Alaska and Hawaii.

White Castle: 

Receive 20 percent off all online and app orders with promo code SAVE20.

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Among the men appearing in recent ads are Chris Hemsworth, an Australian actor who is in a mock-trailer for "Crocodile Dundee 2018," which appears to be an Australian travel campaignDavid Harbour, an actor in the Netflix series “Stranger Things” who is in an ad for Tide; the comedian Bill Hader in a spot for Pringles; David Schwimmer, the former “Friends” star, advertising Skittles; and Danny DeVito in an M&M's commercial.

Three women are exceptions to the trend: Tiffany Haddish appears in a Groupon commercial, while Missy Elliott co-stars with Morgan Freeman in a Mountain Dew and Doritos spot. And of course Cindy Crawford will appear, for Pepsi.

Only a handful of advertisers have unveiled their Super Bowl spots so far, with most choosing instead to roll out teasers. An Amazon ad features a female engineer telling the company’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, that the home assistant machine Alexa has lost her voice.

A Super Bowl commercial can boost sales and put a small company on the national map, but if marketers don't hit the right note, they'll be critiqued to death on TV news shows, pulverized on social media and possibly ridiculed by President Donald Trump. Last year, a Pepsi spot featuring model Kendall Jenner was pulled after widespread social media outrage at the idea of using activism to sell soda.

The 2016 game attracted 111.3 million viewers, along with 190 million social media interactions, according to Nielsen. (Super Bowl LII kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET this Sunday on NBC.)

“Super Bowl is the biggest stage in the world and attracts a diverse set of eyeballs,” said John Osborn, the chief executive of the ad-buying agency OMD. “It serves as a mirror to what's happening in the culture and society."

With feminism having a resurgence, it’s hard to imagine any advertiser making women a punchline. Andy Goeler, the vice president of marketing for Bud Light, says that doing an overtly sexy commercial in this year's Super Bowl would be a mistake for any company.

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Super Bowl 52 pizza deals
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Super Bowl 52 pizza deals

Abby’s Legendary Pizza: 

Abby’s Super Bowl special deal offers $5 off any giant pizza for both takeout and dine-in pies.

Bertucci’s: 

Spend $29.99 and get two party pizzas, 16 wings and rolls. This deal is happening now through game day.

Buddy’s Pizza: 

Visit Buddy’s website and score a coupon for $4 off the purchase of any eight-square, five-topping pizza.

Big Mama’s & Papa’s Pizzeria: 

Get a 36-inch pizza that serves 15-20 people, plus a 2-liter soda for $59.99.

DC’s Pizza and Catering: 

One of Albany, N.Y.’s favorite pizza spots, DC’s offers up one free pizza a week for those who tag #HADAGOODPIECELATELY on social media along with a photo of yourself eating a slice.

Domino’s Pizza: 

Medium two-topping pizzas are just $5.99 each when you order two or more. Opt for carryout and pay just $7.99 for a large, three-topping pie.

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fox’s Pizza Den: 

Large, one-topping pizzas are just $9 when you buy two or more.

Frato’s Pizza and Catering: 

Buy one pizza from Frato’s, get $6 off the second pizza.

Fresh Brothers: 

Get two large skinny or thin crust pizzas with two toppings each, plus 20 wings for $59.99.

Godfather’s Pizza: 

Order a one-topping jumbo pizza for $17.99. Price and participation might vary.

Grotto Pizza: 

Get two large pizzas for $19.99, takeout or delivery.

Hungry Howie’s Pizza: 

Get three extra-large round pizzas for $28.99.

Little Caesars: 

Pick up a large classic pepperoni pizza for just $5.

Mannie & Bo’s Pizzeria: 

Watching the big game in Denver? Sign up for the Very Important Pizza Lover’s Club for special deals and prices.

Papa John’s Pizza: 

Papa John’s is the official sponsor of Super Bowl 52. Check the restaurant site for their game day food specials.

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Papa Murphy’s: 

Order a Papa’s All Meat Pizza for just $11.

Papa Gino’s Pizzeria: 

Sign up for their rewards program for special savings and deals.

Pizza Hut: 

If history gets made at Super Bowl 52, all registered “Hut Rewards” members get free pizza. If any player — Eagles or Patriots — scores a faster touchdown than the Bears’ Devin Hester’s opening return in Super Bowl 41, you can count on a free pie courtesy of the Hut.

(Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Pizza Hut)

Pizza Ranch: 

Buy one large pizza at regular price and get your second for half off

Pizzeria Da Marco: 

Get a Pizza Margherita for $5.95 during happy hour.

Porky’s Pizzeria: 

For $34.99, get a large pizza with two toppings, salad, chicken wings, garlic or cinnamon knots and a 2-liter soda.

Sam’s Club: 

According to Ivy Chou from DealsPlus.com, non-club members can sign up for the Sam’s Club Game Time for Savings deal, which runs through Feb. 5. Get a free $25 gift card, a 16-inch pepperoni or cheese pizza, 18 chocolate chunk cookies, and more savings for just $45, including your new membership fee.

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

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“You would be crazy to do anything like that at all,” he said. “Females are a key piece of our consumer base. To do anything that would insult females, or any demo, is crazy.”

Bud Light hasn't shared many details of its Super Bowl plans yet, but is expected to stick with its popular “Dilly Dilly” catchphrase.

Women account for 46 percent of Super Bowl viewers, according to Nielsen.

“When you realize that, why alienate half the audience with obnoxious commercials?” asked Stuart Elliott, the former New York Times ad columnist who now writes for the website MediaVillage. "Sexy is completely misreading the mood of the country."

The shift away from patronizing ads — such as the 2012 Teleflora spot featuring model Adriana Lima, who told viewers, “Give and you shall receive” — comes as more women populate the typically male enclaves of ad agency creative departments.

Azania Andrews, the vice president of marketing for the Anheuser-Busch beer brand Michelob Ultra, said there has been a shift in the representation of women in beer ads.

"We are the most co-ed beer; nearly 40 percent of our customers are women," she said of Ultra. "We need to create content that is inclusive and inviting. I'm not sure historically it was thought of in the same way."

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The 13 teams that have never won a Super Bowl
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The 13 teams that have never won a Super Bowl

Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl appearances: XVI and XXIII

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Buffalo Bills

Super Bowl appearances: XXV, XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) 

Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl appearances: none

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl appearances: XLIII

(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Chargers

Super Bowl appearances: XXIX

(Photo via REUTERS/Danny Moloshok)

Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl appearances: XXXIII and LI

(Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jacksonville Jaguars

Super Bowl appearances: none

(Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Detroit Lions

Super Bowl appearances: none

(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Carolina Panthers

Super Bowl appearances: XXXVIII and 50

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Houston Texans

Super Bowl appearances: none

(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

Tennessee Titans

Super Bowl appearances: XXXIV

(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Minnesota Vikings

Super Bowl appearances: IV, VIII, IX and XI

(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles

Super Bowl appearances: XV and XXXIX

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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Michelob's ad agency, FCB, has a rare female global chief creative officer, Susan Credle, and the company’s Chicago office, which worked on this year’s Super Bowl ad, also has a woman, Liz Taylor, as its chief creative officer.

Women in creative positions at ad agencies have been supported by groups like Freethebid, a nonprofit initiative aimed at encouraging agencies to put at least one woman on the team when they are pitching projects. Freethebid data says that just 3 percent of creative directors at ad agencies are women.

“Once you work with a few women,” Credle said, “you see how great it is when the barrier goes down, and then it's the norm.”

Credle predicted that Super Bowl viewers will not see much #metoo-related advertising, because brands are leery of commercializing a cause. Even so Credle pitched a controversial idea to one client.

"I really wanted to do a spot about take-the-knee,” she said, referring to the NFL protest movement. “When you see people kneeling, it is to propose, or to tie a shoe for someone — kneeling as a sign of respect and helping somebody.” In the end, she said, the client said no, in part because of the sensitivity of the topic.

At least one ad will feature a supermodel, but with a twist. Cindy Crawford’s Pepsi spot will allude to her popular 1992 Super Bowl ad in which she drank a soda at a vending machine, watched by two little boys. This time around the spot will feature her son, Presley.

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Scenes from Super Bowl Opening Night
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Scenes from Super Bowl Opening Night
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) wears a sombrero as he addresses the media during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) puts on a hat during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Jay Ajayi is interviewed by Rick Strom of TVT Sports during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson is interviewed during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount (29) takes a selfie during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nate Sudfeld is interviewed by a NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2018; St. Paul, MN, USA; New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia (right) is interviewed by Deion Sanders (left) during Super Bowl LII Opening Night at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick speaks to reporter during Super Bowl Opening Night at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. January 29, 2018 REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The New England Patriots take the stage as they arrive for Super Bowl Opening Night, a chance to speak to the media, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. January 29, 2018 REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 29: Jason Kelce #62 of the Philadelphia Eagles speaks to the media during Super Bowl Media Day at Xcel Energy Center on January 29, 2018 in St Paul, Minnesota. Super Bowl LII will be played between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles on February 4. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - JANUARY 29: Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) answers questions during Super Bowl LII Opening Night on January 29, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 29: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) answers questions during Super Bowl LII Opening Night on January 29, 2018. at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - JANUARY 29: NFL Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle John Randle answers questions during Super Bowl LII Opening Night on January 29, 2018 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 29: New England Patriots running back James White (28) answers questions during Super Bowl LII Opening Night on January 29, 2018, at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 29: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) waves to the crowd as he enters the stage to Super Bowl LII Opening Night on January 29, 2018, at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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CORRECTION (Jan. 31, 2018, 4:35 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Liz Taylor. She is chief creative officer of the Chicago office of FCB, not creative director. 

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