Bloomberg and Trump Unveil Super Bowl Ads, Setting Up a Clash on the Airwaves

DES MOINES — Two billionaires will pitch their presidential candidacies amid the beer and car commercials during the Super Bowl on Sunday, with Michael R. Bloomberg spending a full minute addressing gun violence and President Trump using 30 seconds to highlight his first years in office.

The Bloomberg ad, which his campaign says it hopes will “stop people in their tracks,” features an emotional story told by a mother still grieving the loss of her son, shown onscreen in youth football gear, who was killed by gunfire at the age of 20. She points to Mr. Bloomberg’s record on seeking tougher gun laws as the reason she now has “a dog in the fight” for the presidency.

By contrast, Mr. Trump’s ad features relatively general themes and imagery of the president’s rallies, with a narrator boasting about low unemployment and the military. The ad could be mistaken as a generic Trump campaign ad; it is not particularly yoked to the football game, nor does it contain the sort of creative or conceptual touches that distinguish expensive Super Bowl ads.

Yet with the president’s flair for dramatics and the suspense of a great reveal, the Trump campaign said it would be airing two different 30-second ads during the game, and that the second ad “will be seen by the world for the first time when it actually airs.”

The dueling presidential ads, which the campaigns revealed Thursday, are as much a contrast in substance — the Trump ad celebrates a “safer” America while the Bloomberg ad points to children killed by gun violence — as they are a show of financial might and messaging power.

And they provide further evidence that the 2020 election will be a yearlong brawl on the national airwaves, with well-financed candidates like Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Trump exploiting their vast resources to reach huge audiences. Never before have two presidential candidates aired national ads during the Super Bowl.

Both campaigns spent $11 million for 60 seconds in front of what is regularly the largest television audience of the year (predictions for this year’s Super Bowl, which will be broadcast on Fox, hover around 100 million viewers).

Despite its eight-figure sticker price, Mr. Bloomberg’s ad is a relatively small slice of his relentless national advertising strategy: He has already spent $275 million of his multibillion-dollar fortune on television, radio and digital media.

His campaign has spent roughly $90 million on television ads that feature some attack on Mr. Trump, but, notably, the Super Bowl ad does not even mention the president.

Instead, it opens with Calandrian Kemp sharing the story of her son, George Kemp Jr., as the camera pans across childhood pictures of George in football gear. He was shot and killed in 2013 during an altercation while he was at mechanic school; he was 20.

“I just kept saying, you cannot tell me that the child I gave birth to is no longer here,” Ms. Kemp says in the ad, her voice breaking. The screen then shows white text on a black background: “2,900 children die from gun violence every year.”

That figure has been cited by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group primarily financed by Mr. Bloomberg.

Ms. Kemp then praises Mr. Bloomberg’s record on gun control. “I know Mike is not afraid of the gun lobby — they’re scared of him,” she says. “And they should be.”

The ad is scheduled to air between the end of the Super Bowl halftime show and the beginning of the third quarter, the campaign said.

In the age of data-driven, targeted advertising, spending so much on a single ad to reach such a broad audience may seem wasteful. But Howard Wolfson, a top adviser to Mr. Bloomberg, said the thought behind buying an ad during the Super Bowl was simple: It will reach the largest available audience, and Super Bowl ads are often talked about well after the game.

“It’s a time when people get together and they sit down and they watch the Super Bowl, but they also know that there are these ads and there’s a lot of conversation about the ads,” Mr. Wolfson said. “It’s a very wide net, it’s a broad swath of Americans, and this is an issue that there’s been an awful lot of agreement on.”

The campaign said it selected an ad about gun violence for the Super Bowl slot because it was an issue “central to Mike Bloomberg.” Indeed, Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, made the final call. When shown a variety of ads to choose from, Mr. Bloomberg was “adamant” that the campaign run the one featuring Ms. Kemp.

“I cried the first time I saw it,” Mr. Wolfson said. “Other people who saw it in the office cried. There are a lot of fairly hard-bitten political people here.”

Mr. Trump’s ad begins with a news report from Mr. Trump’s favorite night — election night 2016 — as a narrator intones that “America demanded change, and change is what we got.”

Quick flashes of military operations — an aircraft carrier cutting through choppy seas, a fighter jet making a hard banking turn — give way to a recited list of economic realities under Mr. Trump: rising wages and low unemployment.

At the end of the ad, Mr. Trump is shown speaking at one of his raucous rallies, proclaiming, “Ladies and gentlemen, the best is yet to come.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Bloomberg have shown a propensity for advertising during sporting events, which are some of the rare broadcasts that still capture live audiences in an age of digital streaming platforms. Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign ran ads throughout the N.F.L. playoffs, and Mr. Trump advertised during the World Series last year.

Mr. Bloomberg is not competing in the Iowa caucuses, which will take place the night after the Super Bowl, nor has he mounted a concerted effort in New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, which also vote in February. He is instead focusing on the 14 states that vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, when about 40 percent of the Democratic delegates will be allocated.

By flooding the airwaves across the country, Mr. Bloomberg is betting he can drown out his Democratic rivals, who are still focused on campaigning in the early-voting states. The advertising blitz has helped him move up to 7 percent support in the latest New York Times national polling average, good enough for fifth place.

Of course, seeing two political ads in a night that is built on entertainment could turn off some viewers. But Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers said they were not concerned about running an emotional ad about a divisive issue amid the other, often humorous commercials.

“I think it’s going to stop people in their tracks,” Mr. Wolfson said. “Frankly, amid the dancing raisins and souped-up cars, a mother speaking fundamental and powerful truths about her experience and her son’s loss will draw an awful lot of attention, deservedly so.”