Super Bowl Ads: Betty White, Bud Light, Big Laughs

Associated Press

Betty White plays football, babies talk about "milkaholics" and a house made of Bud Light cans falls slowly apart.

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Getty Images

It must be the Super Bowl -- or at least the advertising showcase that entertains amid the gridiron action.

Not every commercial was strictly humorous. Automaker Toyota aired several ads before and after the game to reassure worried owners after its recalls connected with accelerator problems.

A hotly anticipated commercial by conservative Christian group Focus on the Family hinted at a serious subject, although even it had a surprise punchline.

Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his mother talk about her difficult pregnancy with him -- implying an antiabortion message, because she had been advised to end the pregnancy for medical reasons. But the ad ended with Tebow tackling his mom and saying the family must be "tough."

Amid the the laughs Sunday night on CBS, advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola also put the focus on their products, Villanova marketing Professor Charles R. Taylor said. That marks a turn from ads that were heavy on entertainment but light on salesmanship.

Taylor said he had been disappointed for at least the past five Super Bowls in the effectiveness of ads in connecting with products. Advertisers pay dearly for the airtime -- from $2.5 million to more than $3 million per 30 seconds -- and marketers say ads work best when they sell the product, as well as entertain.

He cited a commercial by tiremaker Bridgestone featuring men carrying a whale in the back of their truck, and another by Dove launching its new men's skin-care line. They were winners, he said, because they manage to entertain while telling people about the brands. The ad for Dove tells the story of boy growing into a man and the signal events in a man's life.

"So far from what I've seen I'm quite positively impressed, more than I thought I would be," he said.

A first Super Bowl ad by Google -- which rarely advertises on television -- told an affecting story of a budding relationship through a series of Google searches, beginning with "study abroad" and "how to impress a French woman" and ending with "churches in Paris" and "how to assemble a crib."

That was one of the few strong ads this year, said Laura Ries, president of marketing consulting firm Ries & Ries outside Atlanta.

She figured people would most likely talk more about the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianpolis Colts -- which was close until the waning minutes -- rather than ads. Often, it's the other way around.

"It's very, very difficult to be entertaining in a place like the Super Bowl and have a connection to your brand," she said. "The home runs here are few and far between."

Other highlights included a series of ads by restaurant chain Denny's that showed chickens nervous about all the eggs they'd have to lay when the company gives out free Grand Slam breakfasts again this year.

A top topic on Twitter was "green police" -- the name of an ad by carmaker Audi pushing its new diesel-fueled vehicle the TDI.

Using word play on Cheap Trick's "Dream Police" -- "Green" police officers deal with people making questionable environmental decisions. A man is arrested for choosing a plastic bag at the grocery store, for example.

But not all ads were winners.

Taylor said an ad by Boost Mobile, Sprint's prepaid cellular phone service, didn't work because it depended too heavily on the 1985 Chicago Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle," a reference that could be too old for the brand's buyers.

An ad by Kia for its Sorento SUV will be remembered for its story of a whimsical joyride taken by children's toys -- but people won't likely remember the brand behind the ad, Ries said.

Celebrities weren't as plentiful as in some years. Notable sightings include Charles Barkley rapping for Taco Bell, Betty White and Abe Vigoda playing football for Mars' Snickers brand and Beyonce for low-price television brand Vizio.

A promotion for CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" might be among the most talked about because its punchline was spoken by rival Jay Leno, whose show will again be squaring off with Letterman in March.

Letterman, sitting on a couch with Oprah Winfrey, says, "This is the worst Super Bowl party ever."

Leno replies that Letterman's "just saying that because I'm here."