STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There's been some encouraging news lately about changing eating habits in the United States. According to the USDA, Americans are consuming slightly fewer calories each day and eating a little more healthy stuff.

Some big food companies are on top of this trend as you may be able to tell. This Super Bowl Sunday you may notice that television ads for healthier fare, such as yogurt, nuts and whole grain cereal, are right up there with ads for chips and beer. Now in fairness, healthy food has always been advertised at the Super Bowl. It's Bud Light, Bud Light.

But this is going somewhere new. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, the interesting thing is how these healthier products are being pitched.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: On Sunday, Cereal giant General Mills will be spending millions of dollars to advertise a low-salt, low-sugar O-shaped oat. Yup, Cheerios. They've been around for generations. But forget the Saturday cartoon era, to sell them today, it's a whole new ballgame.

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AUBREY: So here's the scene. A little girl and her dad are counting Cheerios at the breakfast table.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Gracie, do you know how our family has daddy and mommy.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: (As Gracie) And me.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Yeah, that's right.

AUBREY: Then, comes the fourth Cheerio...

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) Pretty soon you're going to have a baby brother.

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AUBREY: What the ad is pitching is the value of family time, being together. There's no talk of nutrition or taste. The ad is trying to say, hey, connect our brand, Cheerios, with the experience of sharing breakfast together.

General Mills has even joined efforts with a nonprofit group that is promoting the same message.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) It's our mission at the Family Dinner Project to support families in getting back to the table. And one day we get this incredible call from Cheerios, saying, what about breakfast? Together we've created the Family Breakfast Project to help families begin their day together - over breakfast.

AUBREY: Ad makers call this kind of campaign value-driven marketing. Companies are trying to build broader messages and emotional ties to their products. After all, no one wants to be told that Cheerios are good for you.

Here's marketing and advertising consultant Bob McKinnon.

BOB MCKINNON: So I think that companies have found that when they're talking about marketing health is that talking about the health aspect is not as important a motivation for buying something as appealing to us on a very sort of direct human level.

AUBREY: Using emotion - or in the case of Dannon yogurt, which has also snapped up Super Bowl air time using good-old sex appeal.

Again, the scene is a breakfast table. There's an attractive woman and a good-looking guy who's got a dab of yogurt on his lip. The camera moves in.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) You got something on your, right here.

AUBREY: She leans in to kiss it off.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Oops. I did it again.

AUBREY: It's flirtatious, and it gets steamier.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt, fuel your pleasure.

AUBREY: Ad man Bob McKinnon chuckles at the play on words.

(LAUGHTER)

MCKINNON: Yeah. Well, who knew so many yogurt eaters watching the Super Bowl, right?

AUBREY: Or future yogurt eaters, more like it. Dannon says they hope to sell more millennials on their brand. McKinnon says we associate the Super Bowl with beer and soda and chip ads, but...

MCKINNON: There's a move in a different direction this year, where we'll be seeing as many yogurt ads as Coke ads. It's just really fascinating.

AUBREY: McKinnon says other companies are hoping to win consumers over to healthier products using star power. Take for instance nuts. Wonderful Pistachios are new to the Super Bowl. And the brand has turned to funny man Stephen Colbert to create a buzz on Sunday night.

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STEPHEN COLBERT: For Super Bowl snacks, obviously, I've got the Wonderful Pistachios because they're delicious.

AUBREY: No need to talk about the protein or fiber.

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COLBERT: When you see what they do to me in this commercial, I was amazed at what they could do.

AUBREY: Wonderful Pistachios hopes Colbert will make their nuts cool.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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