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Super Bowl Ads Aren't Feeling The Recession Pinch

Despite the downturn in advertising — some experts expect overall ad spending to drop nine percent this year — the biggest ad event of the year is thriving. Thirty-second spots in this year's football game sold for as much as $3 million dollars, the highest-ever price tag for Super Bowl ads, up from the $2.7 million Fox charged for a thirty-second spot last year. This year the game's broadcaster, NBC , stands to bring in some $200 million, the most ever from a TV event (and up from the estimated $170 million Fox generated from the event last year).

A number of big names have dropped out. General Motors and Fed Ex were among the biggest Super Bowl advertisers in the past, but this year they'll be notably absent. Still, the game's reach to an estimated 100 million TV watchers -- who are far more likely to pay attention to commercials than pretty much any other event -- is drawing some new advertisers.

Dog food-maker Pedigree and restaurant chain Denny's are buying their first-ever ads. Anheuser Busch is buying 30 seconds more than last year. And GE, the parent company of NBC Universal -- CNBC and NBC are divisions of NBCU -- is doing its first Super Bowl ad since 1981. General Electric is using the ad to promote its smart-grid technology, part of a integrated print and digital campaign it's launching at the same time.

Super Bowl advertisers are determined to get their money's worth, and with spending tighter than ever, GE is just one of many companies using its Super Bowl spot as part of a bigger ad campaign. Marketers like e-Trade are using the ad time to drive viewers online to their websites. GE and Coke are using this ad time to launch big new global campaigns. Some advertisers are getting creative — MillerCoors is running one-second spots. If you blink you'll miss them, but they do send a message of frugality.

NBC says it sold 85 percent of the commercial spots by September 5, before the financial crisis really took hold. So it won't be until Super Bowl 2010 that we really see the impact of the recession. For now, all those advertisers who shelled out $3 million for the ad time and much more to produce the ads will be watching to see how many people tune in.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.