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Ad Nods to Taylor Swift and Football, Drawing Cheers and Criticism

When an advertisement for Cetaphil lotion was released online days before the Super Bowl, it drew rave reviews for a narrative that evoked a familiar story for parents, football fans and followers of Taylor Swift.

In the commercial, a father unsuccessfully tries to interest his teenage daughter, who’s distracted by something on her phone, in a football game. She goes to her bedroom to complete her skin-care routine — using Cetaphil on her face. She then walks downstairs to see her father watching a football game while wearing a white jersey bearing the No. 89. The announcer can be heard saying, “Well folks, there she is, the most famous fan at the game,” drawing a smile from the daughter.

The father, sensing an opportunity, later walks into her room with a red No. 13 jersey for her and jokingly applies cream to his face before imploring her to come and watch the game. She goes downstairs, lays her phone on the coffee table and curls up next to her father. The ad ends with them wearing their jerseys on the couch and laughing. An on-screen message reads, “This season, dads and daughters found a new way to connect.”

Though it does not directly mention Taylor Swift, the ad is a nod to how the music superstar’s relationship with the Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce was said to have gotten more fathers and daughters watching N.F.L. games together this season. The No. 13 and No. 89 jerseys were implicit references to Ms. Swift’s “lucky number,” 13, and her (and Mr. Kelce’s) birth year, 1989. And the father in the ad wore friendship bracelets, as do many of Ms. Swift’s fans.

Users on social media reacted positively to the ad, drawing connections to their own lives. One TikTok user who posted the ad said it “has me in tears.” On X, fan accounts for Ms. Swift lauded the commercial, and one user said, “as the daughter of a football coach and a die-hard Swiftie, I adore this.”

But on Friday night, a woman who has a popular TikTok account, Sharon Mbabazi, said the company had stolen the idea for the ad from her. On her social media accounts, she shared a TikTok post from September in which she is doing her makeup when her stepfather walks in and tells her about Mr. Kelce’s surge in Instagram followers, jersey sales and popularity since his relationship with Ms. Swift became public.

The post, whose caption reads, “My stepdad has been updating me on Taylor and Travis every day since Sunday,” had 2.7 million views as of Sunday afternoon. (It is one of several she has posted involving her, football and her stepfather.) He joins Ms. Mbabazi in applying lotion to his face, all while providing updates on Kansas City’s performance or simply letting her know when the Chiefs were playing — and to get ready to watch the game together. Ms. Mbabazi did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement on Sunday, Cetaphil said the ad was “an original creation” that was “inspired by a unique trend this year in which numerous young women and girls have been bonding with their fathers over football and posting about it on their social channels.” The company added that, after talking with Ms. Mbabazi, it was “working with Sharon and other influencers like her,” though it did not specify what that meant.

Other health and beauty companies, which often focus on women in their marketing, perhaps hoping to benefit from the interest in Ms. Swift, advertised during the Super Bowl on Sunday night, including E.L.F. cosmetics, NYX Makeup and Dove. (The Cetaphil ad was not scheduled to air nationally during the game.)

Mary Scott, a professor of strategic communications at Montclair State University, said Super Bowl ads were most effective when they captured a feeling or moment the country as a whole had recently experienced. Even more than the Swift effect, Ms. Scott said, the depiction of phones as a barrier between parents and their children is something many parents could relate to.

She likened the Cetaphil commercial to those from the 2021 Super Bowl that alluded to Americans’ shared experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They’ve cut into a different reality,” Ms. Scott said, referring to the Cetaphil ad. “They just went deeper.”




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