NEW YORK - The Super Bowl can be a scary but rewarding place, and not just for the football players. This year several first-time advertisers, including Planters nuts, showed they've got what it takes to compete with marketing powerhouses like Anheuser-Busch Inc.
Cars.com and Bridgestone Firestone North America also turned in solid freshman performances, but some of the most memorable entries came from Coke.
Back in the game last year after an absence of nine years, Coca-Cola Co.'s main brand was an even bigger presence this year. A spot playing on the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade featured giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters chasing after an inflatable bottle of Coke, high over the rooftops of Manhattan.
Another Coke spot featured political rivals James Carville and Bill Frist, getting over their differences with a Coke - then tooling around Washington on Segway scooters.
Rival PepsiCo Inc. had several spots in the game as well, some of them more quizzical. A spot for Pepsi's Diet Pepsi Max featured a series of people nodding off to sleep, including a man at a deli counter with a preposterously large comb-over, who are revived with a jolt of caffeine.
The odd bent of the Pepsi commercials led one set of reviewers, a panel of MBA students led by Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, to declare that "Coke got the better of Pepsi" this year.
Also scoring high on Calkins' list this year was a spot for Tide to Go, a portable cleaning product from Procter & Gamble Co. In the ad, a distracting stain on a job applicant's shirt winds up blowing his interview.
Kraft Foods Inc.'s Planters nuts division delivered a clever ad featuring a plain-looking woman sporting a full monobrow. She still manages to drive men crazy with a secret scent - essence de cashew nut, applied by liberally rubbing cashews against the neck.
Cars.com, an online classified ad company owned by Gannett Co., Tribune Co. and other newspaper publishers, employed car shoppers who didn't have to resort to a "plan B" to get what they wanted from the car dealers. Options included a medicine man who could shrink heads.
Fellow first-timer Bridgestone Firestone North America didn't take any chances in missing out on viewers' attention. It employed exercise guru Richard Simmons, Alice Cooper, an albino snake and a band of screeching animals to make a point about the road-gripping qualities of its tires.
Job-search site CareerBuilder.com returned not with the cast of monkeys it used for several years, but with an ad featuring a bored office worker whose heart jumps out of her chest, struts down to the boss's office and jumps up on the desk with a little sign saying, "I quit."
The Super Bowl audience is by far the largest delivered in any medium. It included 93 million viewers last year. Such numbers are even harder to come by these days now that a writers' strike has knocked many scripted dramas off the air.
They're also expensive: Advertisers pay as much as $2.7 million for 30 seconds of air time, and the price edges higher nearly every year.
Anheuser-Busch Inc. was once again the largest advertiser in the game, with a series of humorous spots for its Bud Light brand and a heartfelt "Rocky"-inspired story of a Clydesdale horse that doesn't make the first cut for the carriage team, but succeeds after a year of training with an unlikely coach, a Dalmatian dog.
All of Anheuser-Busch's other spots focused on its Bud Light brand and were heavy on sight gags, including guys sneaking beers into a wine-and-cheese party with a loaf of French bread and a big wheel of cheese, a group of hapless cavemen who invent the wheel to bring their cooler of beer to a party, and a guy who gets fire-breathing power from drinking Bud Light, with some unfortunate side effects.
Bud Light pushed the envelope with a late-airing ad featuring Will Ferrell in character for his upcoming basketball comedy, "Semi-Pro." The comic extols the beer's ability to refresh the palate - "and the loins."