The biggest star of Super Bowl LVII commercials? Nostalgia.

Although a range of companies are advertising their wares during Super Bowl LVII, a common theme runs through many of the spots: nostalgia.

Many of this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads are playing it safe, tapping cultural references from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. For example, tennis champion Serena Williams stars in a Michelob Ultra ad that draws on the classic comedy “Caddyshack,” while John Travolta, who starred in “Grease” more than 40 years ago, croons the musical’s hit “Summer Nights” on behalf of T-Mobile’s 5G home internet service.

“Super Bowl ads are always a reflection of the country, to some degree,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University. “Companies are sticking with lighthearted advertising as a safe approach given all the challenges facing the country.”

That means edgier ads, like Apple’s celebrated 1984 commercial for its MacIntosh computer, are out, and humor is in.

“Consumers are looking for a good laugh and to feel comfortable,” said Rich Weinstein, a professor at VCU Brandcenter. “It’s less about living in the problems the world faces today and more about leaning into nostalgia and having fun.”

Other Super Bowl ads this year that look back fondly on the past: Alicia Silverstone reprising her role from the 1995 film “Clueless” in an ad for Rakuten; Intuit TurboTax using the 1982 song “Safety Dance” from Men Without Hats; and actor Adam Driver starring in a Squarespace commercial that evokes “The Matrix.”

Driver told CBS MoneyWatch he has practically no experience creating websites, which is the main service Squarespace provides. Still, the actor said he agreed to do the spot because he has always been a fan of Squarespace’s “odd and funny” commercials. 

“I never think of the people in their living rooms watching it until someone reminds me that’s the end game,” he said. 

Time for a national “group hug”?

The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage, with companies jockeying to get their products in front of millions of people. Last year, more than 208 million people watched the big game, according to NFL data. This year, a 30-second ad costs about $7 million. But the costs can be more than twice as high once the price of producing the spot and running associated social media campaigns are factored in.

Beyond the sheer numbers of people who are watching, creating a Super Bowl ad is tricky in part because of the audience’s diversity. For example, “You have to come up with a spot that is going to resonate with younger people and also older people,” Calkins said. 

And for Super Bowl LVII, advertisers are likely tapping older, well-known celebrities because of their broad appeal. Meanwhile, the U.S. is still emerging from the pandemic, while inflation and the raging war in Ukraine also shade the current cultural moment. 

“This year people are over it, and advertisers are responding really well,” said Kelly O’Keefe, CEO of Brand Federation. “There are traditional brands, traditional humor, and it’s going to feel like just a big old group hug.”

Crypto loses value, Coinbase and FTX Trading debuted some of the most talked-about commercials during last year’s Super Bowl, but none of those companies will air an ad this year. Four crypto companies were gearing up for Super Bowl ads but decided to bow out late last year, a Fox Sports executive vice president said. 

The crypto industry is mired in its version of a bear market and still reeling from the sudden bankruptcy collapse of FTX. Some of the biggest names in crypto — including Binance, Coinbase and Kraken — confirmed with CBS MoneyWatch that they’re out. 

“A 30-second ad at this point in our industry’s infancy is not a good use of resources at best and at worst risks bringing in new users before they completely understand the opportunities and risks,” Binance Chief Strategy Officer Patrick Hilmann said. “There is a way to advertise crypto responsibly, but the expectations around a Super Bowl ad is not conducive to that type of message.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.