Updated from Feb. 3 with commercials for Volkswagen, Audi, Mars and General Motors.
Audi Don't expect a cute-and-kitschy ad like last year's "Green Police" spot from an empowered Audi. This year, they're going for the throat. After posting a 23% sales gain in 2010 and selling nearly 102,000 vehicles in the U.S. -- a company record -- Audi points directly at Mercedes-Benz with its one Super Bowl ad and extends its middle digit as blatantly as possible. In a 60-second, $6 million ad based on the children's book Goodnight Moon that's slated to run during the first commercial break, Audi mocks "old luxury" tropes like dead animal stoles, candelabras, giant crystal chandeliers and banquet tables before zooming in on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, declaring "Good night bygones everywhere" and turning out its lights. Perhaps feeling that wasn't direct enough, and that more of its competitors deserved a good brand-bashing, Audi of America marketing chief Scott Keough told luxury blog Luxist that BMW was suffering from "Snookization" after the Jersey Shore character bought one during the show's second season. That may be so, but Mercedes' U.S. sales are still double Audi's and BMW's nearly tripling Audi's total. It's good to see Audi showing some fire, but the company may want to take a cue from the Super Bowl teams and reserve the trash talk until the consumer sees some results on the scoreboard. Ahead of the Super Bowl, Audi released two preview clips that focused on escaping the so-called old luxury. In one spot, privileged children are "startled straight" by a group of older, wealthy individuals in luxury prison for crimes like excessive yachting. In another spot, musician Kenny G is shown as the head of riot suppression at a facility housing "old luxury," where his soothing songs quell luxury prisoners upset at the lack of caviar.
E*Trade Financial ( ETFC) Love 'em or hate 'em, the talking babies are back. Going on five years now, the E*Trade talking babies will return for two separate spots in this year's big game, as the financial company attempts to milk the pint-sized ad icons for all they are worth. "We're thrilled to be returning to the Super Bowl and are confident this will be our most memorable, most effective campaign yet," Nick Utton, chief marketing officer for E*Trade said in a statement. "With estimates of 100 million-plus captivated viewers -- including a high percentage of affluent investors -- no other event offers better reach and scale for our brand than the Big Game." This time around, the talking baby spots will have a focus on social media with the company hoping for a "viral interaction." E*Trade pointed to a company-commissioned survey that shows 47% of those planning to watch the Super Bowl expect to communicate others via social media or text message during the game. And speaking of a viral interaction, after a $100 million lawsuit battle with troubled actress Lindsay Lohan last year, there's little doubt that any talking baby will utter the term "milkaholic" again this year.
Volkswagen With two ads and $6 million invested in this year's Super Bowl, Volkswagen makes up a big chunk of this year's multicar ad pileup. Coming off of its best U.S. sales year since 2003, and a 17% overall sales increase since 2009, V-dub is using its ad tandem to reintroduce some of its old favorites. The 2012 Passat makes its debut in an ad called "The Force," which features a Darth Vader-dressed kid standing toe-to-toe with the car's latest iteration, while the "Black Beetle" ad reduces the VW icon to insect size and shows it the world as seen by its bug counterparts. While not the biggest auto ad purchase of the Super Bowl, the two spots help a brand bent on world domination run with the big boys.
Bridgestone This company's knack for finding inoffensive, commercially viable halftime performers is nothing short of stunning. Just when we thought the Super Bowl was running out of mass-appeal, minimally subversive acts -- Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, the two guys formerly known as The Who and Bon Jovi -- in step the Black Eyed Peas. Those with enough esoteric knowledge to remember this group's Fergie-free pseudo-activist roots are woefully outnumbered by those familiar with a band that's not above changing a key lyric to appeal to the broadest audience possible, giving a global audience collective amnesia when it comes to the refrain "Let's get retarded." This isn't a band, it's an industry brought to you by BlackBerry, MolsonCoors, Honda ( HMC), Apple ( AAPL), Verizon ( VZ), Samsung, Pepsi, Best Buy and countless other corporate partners. The last time we saw Black Eyed Peas lead singer Will.i.am -- and that title assumes there's still an audience that recognizes him as such, and not as Ms. Ferguson's personal hype man -- he was at Intel's earnings announcement being introduced as that company's director of creative innovation. That's apparently what "shill" translates to as a resume item. But what about Bridgestone's ads, you say? The NFL's tire sponsor spent $6 million on two 30-second spots: Their "Carma" ad featuring drivers on Bridgestones paying it forward and "Reply All," which shows how a set of four good tires can help undo an Internet mishap. That's nice and all, but tough to compare to the unstoppable marketing force of that Boom Boom Pow.
Anheuser-Busch InBev ( BUD) MolsonCoors ( TAP) may have held the "official NFL beer sponsor" title last year, but nobody beats Anheuser-Busch when it comes to Super Bowl spending. Since 2001, Anheuser-Busch was one of just two companies to run ads during every Super Bowl (Pepsi being the other) and spend $235 million during that span to convince people to open a cold one during every commercial break. While Bud won't rush the Super Bowl with the same five-minute, nine-ad blitz it rolled out last year, it's still good for five ads, three and a half minutes of airtime and roughly $21 million. Fans who watched the NFC and AFC championship games already saw 15-second teaser clips of this year's Bud Clydesdale commercial, but A-B InBev is also planning some new additions to its Bud Light "Here We Go" series and is dedicating 60 seconds to a '60s Euro-retro Stella Artois spot. Does A-B InBev realize Stella drinkers usually enjoy a different kind of football?
General Motors ( GM) Oh, it's on now. For two years, GM ducked the Super Bowl while dealing with bankruptcy, accepting a multibillion-dollar bailout and hearing those "Government Motors" taunts from consumers and competitors. Even when it was rumored that GM would have Super Bowl ads again, the haters were all like, "you're just getting out of bankruptcy, you need to handle your money better, I don't run a car company but I'm going to tell you how to run yours after you just took one of the biggest public floggings in auto history... blah, blah, blah." Well, GM's about to smack them back with all four fingers and Uncle Sam's thumb knuckle. The fresh-off-an-IPO automaker is running five ads totaling $15 million in airtime and giving away a Camaro convertible to the game's MVP. That's what the NFL's official car and truck sponsor does. Thought they were just going to sit back and feel sorry for themselves while five other countries made their play for Super Bowl Sunday. That's just not GM's way. They're the company that spent $61.1 million in the last 10 years on seven years' worth of Super Bowl commercials -- fourth most in that span. They're the company that's the reason you know at least some of the words to Bob Seger's Like a Rock or any of the words to John Mellencamp's This Is Our Country. They're the company that just hacked off a bunch of dead or dying brands and replaced them with America's first plug-in hybrid. They're G-MF-M, and they're back in the game.
HomeAway As northeastern U.S. states continue to try to find places to dump mounting snow, there's no better time for an online vacation rental company to capitalize on consumer sentiment. HomeAway made a big splash in the Super Bowl ad market last year when it reunited Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo as the Griswold family from the National Lampoon's Vacation series of movies. HomeAway said the commercial generated a 500% increase in Web visits on the day following the Super Bowl, as well as one million incremental page views in a 24-hour period. HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples said that last year's Super Bowl spot was a big success and that the next new "ambitious campaign ... will highlight the benefits of vacation rentals over hotels." This time around, HomeAway introduces consumers to the Ministry of Detourism, which is tasked with saving vacationers from miserable hotel stays. To illustrate the company's point, a prop baby is launched into a glass window.
CareerBuilder.com When are chimpanzees in business suits not funny? That's what CareerBuilder.com is hoping job hunters will say when it digs into the archives to unearth those crazy chimpanzee co-workers, who first debuted in the company's initial round of Super Bowl ads in 2005. In the first teaser spot released by CareerBuilder.com, the human protagonist is reminded of how difficult it can be to deal with co-workers before he even manages to step out of his car. Again, dressing up a monkey in a business suit is a surefire way of getting attention. CareerBuilder has seen mixed success in the ad market since the chimps went missing after 2006. The company introduced viewers to the office jungle in 2007, and the quitting heart in 2008. During the height of the recession in early 2009, CareerBuilder.com tried to lighten the mood by suggesting that unhappy workers punch koala bears to alleviate stress. Last year, casual Fridays were taken way too far in the company's ad campaign. With an economic recovery in the cards for 2011 -- at least, according to most economists -- CareerBuilder.com should expect to see more traffic, and getting in front of the eyes of Super Bowl viewers will help it compete against Monster Worldwide ( MWW) and TheLadders.com. "With the job market poised to be stronger in 2011, unemployed, underemployed and unhappily employed workers will be on the lookout for new job opportunities," Richard Castellini, chief marketing officer for CareerBuilder.com, said in a statement. "We thought this was good timing to bring the chimpanzees out of retirement and tell more stories from a celebrated campaign that everyone can relate to in some way."
Mars Last year's Snickers Super Bowl ad featuring beloved Golden Girl Betty White was about as close as Mars could get to perfection, especially with the social networking public willing White to a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live a few months later. How does Mars follow that up? By spending $3 million on one Snickers ad in the third quarter featuring Roseanne Barr and Richard Lewis. Kind of went the other way on that one, eh Mars? We realize your "You're Not You When You're Hungry Campaign" is supposed to showcase the Hyde-ian side of the human personality brought on by hunger, but until this point you've cast generally likeable folks like White, Aretha Franklin and Abe Vigoda as the chocolate-peanut-and-caramel-craving alter egos. Barr's trademark, however, is an abrasive public persona that makes Lou Ferrigno's, Edward Norton's and even Eric Bana's versions of The Incredible Hulk look like Estelle Getty.
GoDaddy.com Who knew that Internet domain registration and Web hosting would go over so big with NFL fans? GoDaddy.com has become the advertising equivalent of Maxim magazine as it has attempted to seduce males with the help of GoDaddy Girls, like race car-driver Danica Patrick. With each commercial carrying a multi-million-dollar price tag, never has juvenile humor been so costly. GoDaddy.com created a stir in 2005, courtesy of a wardrobe malfunction during a mock congressional hearing on broadcast censorship. GoDaddy.com attempts to drive traffic to its Web site with the promise of more coverage. In reality, though, the Internet clips are actually the original commercials intended to air before the networks rejected them. This time around, the teaser commercial stars Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser alongside Patrick. In the 30-second spot, both women argue with GoDaddy.com executives (presumably) that the latest script goes over the top, and their only intent should be to promote the product. When reminded they are contractually obligated, Michaels and Patrick walk to the filming set with the camera angles suggesting that neither would be appropriately dressed for, say, Sunday church services. After Super Bowl XLIV, GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons said GoDaddy had "a tremendous surge in Web traffic, sustained the spike, converted new customers and shot overall sales off the chart." However, GoDaddy.com's two spots ranked 60th and 63rd out of 65 total commercials, according to USA Today's Ad Meter, which tracks viewer responses to the Super Bowl ads.
PepsiMax You know what advertising in every Super Bowl for the last decade and throwing $170.8 million at the networks for the privilege allows you to do? If you're Pepsi ( PEP), it means you can take $9 million worth of ads and just give them away. PepsiMax has five contenders in its Crash the Super Bowl contest, and all but one of them fit the "Guys: Man, They're Dumb"-motif that's served Super Bowl commercials so well in the past. The creators of the three winners get $5 million, the football-watching public once again gets a look at the gerbil on the wheel of the marketing machine that says "diet" soda is for girls but "zero-calorie" soda is for boys and we all feel just a little dumber for it.
Doritos Well, we know what commercials we won't be seeing this year. Apparently feeling that guys being hit in the crotch is clichéd and that animals passing wind is so 2008, entrants in the Dorito division of PepsiCo's Crash the Super Bowl contest felt that commercials containing gay-themed humor along the lines of the Blue Oyster Bar scenes in the Police Academy movies were not only appropriate, but timely and topical as well. Frito-Lay couldn't have agreed less, and told the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that the commercials in question never made it past the preliminary stages of their contest, which didn't stop their creators from posting them on Google's YouTube anyway. Instead, viewers get to choose from five submissions featuring naked women, dogs, an emotionally stunted member of Generation X and lots of buddy comedy. While they're not all incredibly strong, they're still far more original and less offensive than the "ads" that hogged all the press last week.
Hyundai/Kia The Korean automakers continue to build into a powerhouse, and their ad presence at the Super Bowl's growing right along with them. Last year, Hyundai alone sold 540,000 vehicles in the U.S. -- a brand record -- and increased sales nearly 24% over 2009 compared with an 11% improvement from the rest of the industry. Kia, meanwhile, set its own U.S. sales record with more than 356,000 cars rolling off its lots and a nearly 19% sales increase that outpaced the industry's post-Cash for Clunkers comeback. At this year's Super Bowl, Hyundai is touting that success with three 30-second ads that already previewed during the championship games featuring a sheep driving a competitors' compact car, this year's new Elantra and this year's Sonata. Kia's 60-second "One Epic Ride" ad, meanwhile, involves Greek gods, aliens and spaceships traveling through time to snag a reworked Optima. Kia's also giving away five Optimas to some of the lucky viewers who can put off a trip to the bathroom or beer fridge for 60 seconds.
Cars.com Applaud CarMax for stepping to within a nose-hair length of automotive classifieds site Cars.com's grill this year with its Super Bowl ads, but this isn't Cars.com's first year on the lot. Cars.com has been wheeling and dealing during Super Bowl breaks for the last four years, and this year's two 30-second ads display the poise of a seasoned veteran. Talking cars and belching trucks may seem somewhat down market, but in Super Bowl currency they're the solid bars of gold bullion that form the foundation of any accessible campaign. Cars.com's "The Reviews Are In" ad has these elements in high supply, while its "Go First" adds features poison-quaffing serfs, arrow-taking cowboys and jumbled teleporting scientists straight from the "They Is Dumb" school of Super Bowl ad casting. You see, it's just fine to consider a Super Bowl ad a nice boost or a one-off attention getter, but Cars.com's execs and marketing team consider such ads necessary investments and, according to chief marketing officer Carolyn Crafts "the launching point of our annual media plan" that also includes spots during the Academy Awards ceremony. Will the Washington Post and the Gannett ( GCI) and McClatchy ( MNI) newspapers that support Cars.com be around for a few more Super Bowls? Hard to say, but if this latest year of Super Bowl spending is any indication, Cars.com preparing for a long drive ahead.
Mercedes-Benz After 125 years in the business, it's about time Mercedes made it to the big game. Mercedes is marking this year's anniversary by spending $6 million on a 60-second spot featuring the SLS roadster and the revamped CLS four-door and its new C-Class coupe, which will be built in a new $290 million plant in Alabama starting in 2014. The automaker is also jumping into social networking by sponsoring a "tweet race" in which teams including tennis star Serena Williams, Reverend Run from Run D.M.C., Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy and New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher driver specially equipped Mercedes vehicles and generate traffic on Twitter to win a C-Class coupe. Daimler knows that Audi's calling its Mercedes brand a fogey behind its back, so an overt play for the under-40 crowd isn't exactly unexpected. We just wonder this luxury brand standard-bearer would have made this a MySpace Marathon if they'd thought of the idea six years ago. -- Written by Robert Holmes and Jason Notte in Boston. >To contact the writers of this article, click here: Robert Holmes or Jason Notte. >To follow Robert Holmes on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/RobTheStreet. >To follow Jason Notte on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/Notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.