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Super Bowl ads highlight Big Tech debate

Screenshot via TurboTax

This year's Super Bowl ads highlighted how torn society is over the promise of Big Tech. Some spots showed dystopian fears surrounding robots and automation, while others highlighted ways new technologies can improve health care, employment and connectivity.

Why it matters: The conflicting messages underscore the debate happening right now about whether automation and artificial intelligence will displace humanity or save it.

  • On one side, ads from TurboTax, Michelob Ultra and Pringles showed ways robots and voice assistants can't compete with human intelligence and emotion. Even Amazon ran a lengthy ad poking fun at the hiccups from its Alexa voice assistant.
  • On the other, tech companies like Google and Microsoft tried to showcase their human side with ads highlighting ways their companies aid veterans and children with disabilities.

There was also an irony in the millions of dollars spent on ads by streaming video companies. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube TV all purchased spots Sunday, serving as a reminder that traditional television — and particularly the Super Bowl — is still considered the top destination for high-level branding.

Another major theme this year was the power of female protagonists. Bumble, Toyota, Wix, Amazon Prime and Hulu all ran ads showing the power of women in sports, in the workplace, and in society.

Some companies got dinged on social media for their ads:

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev drew ire from corn advocates and farmers for a series of ads that dismissed using corn syrup in beer.
  • Verizon drew some online criticism for its ad lauding first responders, which didn't mention that the company throttled data for first responders in California in August.
  • T-Mobile took Twitter heat for ripping off an old internet meme.

Noticeably absent from the game this year was Coca-Cola, despite the fact that the Super Bowl took place in its backyard. The Atlanta-based beverage company ran a simple animated ad before kickoff, but let Pepsi take the spotlight this year with several spots and its usual half-time show.

Go deeper: Pricing plateaus for this year's Super Bowl ads

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