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For Super Bowl commercials, smart money’s on the carmakers

Super Bowl commercials

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Updated: May 9, 2012 10:13AM

Need a new car?

You’ll think you do after Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“A little over a third of all the ads in the game are going to be car ads,” said David Shoffner of the ad agency Pavone, which tracks the popularity of Super Bowl commercials in its online poll at

Advertisers are forking over a record $3.5 million for 30 seconds of air time during the country’s most watched television show.

Last year’s Big Game snagged a whopping 111 million viewers — viewers who are tuning in for the ads as much as the action on the field. A 2010 Nielsen survey found that 51 percent of the Super Bowl’s audience enjoys the commercials more than the game. (For a look at the past’s best ads, check out the CBS special “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials” at 7 p.m. Wednesday on WBBM-Channel 2.)

For the auto industry, this year’s Giants-Patriots showdown is gearing up to be even bigger than last year’s Super Bowl, dubbed the Auto Bowl after an unprecedented $77.5 million was spent hawking motor vehicles, according to Kantar Media.

“Car ads traditionally tend to be middle of the road in terms of entertainment value, but I think we’re going to see a couple of standouts this year,” Shoffner said.

So far, most of the spots generating the biggest buzz are car-related.

Over 10 million hits have been had on YouTube for Volkswagen’s “Bark Side” video, featuring a canine chorus woofing out the theme to “Star Wars.” The clip is a teaser for the German automaker’s upcoming sequel to its wildly popular Super Bowl XLV entry, where a pint-sized Darth Vader unleashed the Force on his family’s new Passat.

Honda made a huge splash Monday when it released an extended version of its Matthew Broderick-starring ad slated for the fourth quarter. Tapping into the target audience’s fondness for Broderick’s beloved Ferris Bueller character, the 2-minute, 23-second clip follows the actor as he plays hooky from the movie set to tool around town in a new CR-V.

Tapping into a similar vein of nostalgia, the same RPA ad agency came up with an LOL Acura commercial that has Jerry Seinfeld pulling out all the stops — even the Soup Nazi — to be the first in line for an Acura NSX.

Other car-makers taking the funny route this year: General Motors with the winning entry in its consumer-generated ad contest, “Chevy Happy Grad,” in which a graduate mistakenly thinks his parents have given him a Camaro, and Toyota with a hilarious spot for its reinvented Camry. It takes the “reinvention” theme and runs with it, featuring a reinvented cop who gives massages and a reinvented Department of Motor Vehicles that doles out ice cream cones.

“We have a lot of car ads and a lot of rookies, which I think are both indications of a rebounding economy,” Shoffner said.

Newcomers to the Super Bowl advertising arena include Samsung, Lexus and Century 21. The real estate sales company released a trio of teasers this week for its game-day commercial with celebrity cameos by Donald Trump, football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno.

Regis Philbin is another familiar face surfacing during this year’s Super Bowl. The longtime chatfest host makes his return to the small screen for Pepsi MAX. The ad shows a Coke delivery man getting busted for buying the competition’s beverage in the latest installment of the brand’s playful Cola Wars campaign.

And look out Jamie Lee Curtis, because actor John Stamos will serve as pitchman for Dannon Yogurt, making its Super Bowl debut.

One celebrity we won’t be seeing this year: Kim Kardashian.

“She’s been the star of the Skechers spot for the last couple of years but now she’s out,” Shoffner said. “She’s been replaced by a French bulldog starring along with [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban.”

Don’t worry, guys. Plenty of eye candy will be dished up as usual by, the company that seems to think it’s selling bras and bikinis instead of Internet domain names. And you’ll get two helpings of Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, the Brazilian beauty who’s doing ads for Kia Motors and the flower delivery service Teleflora.

Someone must have finally noticed that 45.9 percent of last year’s Super Bowl audience was female, which is why the ladies will be treated to some scantily clad images of David Beckham. The soccer star will be promoting his line of men’s Bodywear for Super Bowl advertising newbie H&M.

Turns out the bears — lower-case B — will be in the Super Bowl after all. Coca-Cola has two versions of ads featuring its popular animated polar bears. Which spot gets shown will be a game-time decision.

The soft drink company also is putting its bears to work online at, a Facebook page where you can see the bears watching the game and reacting to the action on the gridiron.

“There’ll be a live Twitter stream going along with that so consumers can chime in and have a dialog with the bears in real time,” said Nick Fuller, a marketing expert with the social media agency Mr Youth.

“This year more than ever you’re going to see ads embracing social media,” added Christian Borges, Mr Youth’s vice president of marketing. He pointed to the example of a Pepsi spot that will have “X Factor” champ Melanie Amaro singing “Respect.”

“Consumers will be able to download a free video of the performance by using the Shazam app on their phones to capture audio from the commercial,” Borges said.

Another sponsor that’s bound to get people talking: Doritos. Its annual “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign asks fans to channel their inner Don Draper and create a killer commercial for the chips. The winning entry gets unveiled on game day. This year’s five finalists, online at, are a strong bunch.

“They have a lot of animals and babies in them,” Shoffner said. “That’s the secret to any good Super Bowl commercial. If you can put an animal or baby in it — or both — you’re probably going to have a great spot.”

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