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The Ad Bowl's Big Winners

The morning after the big game the New Orleans Saints weren't the only big winners: advertisers cashed in on the biggest audience for any program and TV history.

So who won?

Doritos, according to Nielsen Ad Buzz. Doritos snagged 11 percent of all online buzz about Super Bowl advertisers, more than any other brand. And TiVo named Doritos' "House Rules" spot as the most engaging ad in the game, with the biggest jump in viewers from programming in the 15 minutes before and after the ad. Doritos strategy worked: it asked viewers to create ads and vote on its website on which ones should run during the big game. Engaging with viewers before the big game built in high awareness, and the company saved on high production costs.

As dot-coms replaced automakers and beer as the top ad category, newcomer Google shocked everyone with a rare TV spot, and drew the second most buzz, according to Nielsen. While every other ad during the game was brand new and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if not a million -- to produce, Google's ad stood in stark contrast, it's been on the website since November.

Some new trends this year: dot-coms replaced carmakers and beer as the top ad category. This commercial included more minutes of commercials than any prior Super Bowl game. There were more 15-second ads in this game than we've seen since 2002. And CBS ran 8 minutes and 25 seconds of network promos, more than the last two years but less than the amount of time devoted to promos in 2007.

For all the dot-coms in the game and online innovations, advertisers were remarkably traditional. With marketing dollars still tight, advertisers relied on familiar faces to recall happier times. Snickers used Betty White to sell the candy bars. Homeaway.com's reunited the National Lampoon's Vacation stars to promote its vacation rentals. And Volkswagen's "punch buggy" ads cleverly re-booted a retro road trip game. Anheuser Busch's decision to run a classic Clydesdale ad sparked a fair amount of buzz. But bud also attracted attention simply because of its sheer scale: it's the games largest advertiser, buying a full five minutes of spots.

Google numbers reveal that the promise of free stuff did a good job of snagging viewers attention. Dockers' offer of free pants prompted a spike in search queries that lasted throughout the game. A spike in searches for the diner chain followed Denny’s two ads promoting its free “Grand Slam” breakfast. Results from YouTube's Ad Blitz competition, which tallies votes of favorite and least-favorite spots, will be revealed on February 17.

Hyundai was out in full force, with two and a half minutes of ads, more than any other automaker. Toyota did sit the Super Bowl out, but the embattled carmaker was a last minute addition to the post-game, reassuring consumers about its vehicles' safety.

But it only took 15 seconds to wow and surprise viewers with a reunion of Late Night's fiercest rivals. In a short ad for CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman," Jay Leno and Oprah Winfrey joined Letterman on the couch at the Super Bowl party. The fact that CBS' convinced Leno to mock the rivalry was impressive, also raising questions about how they managed to keep the commercial shoot under wraps.

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Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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