- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It’s no secret the Super Bowl is as much about the commercials as it is about the game.

Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals is unlikely to attract the record 97 million viewers who tuned in for last year’s Patriots-Giants contest, but that hasn’t stopped advertisers from paying an average of $3 million for a 30-second spot.

NBC could pull in a record $200 million from the ads, more than double the total from 10 years ago.

This year’s slate of commercials will have some noticeable absences, but most of the longtime staples will be there. Here are a handful of the companies that might make a splash:

CareerBuilder and Monster.com - Both online job sites have advertised during the Super Bowl before, but they have never gone head-to-head. It will be interesting to see which company gets the most attention, but it also will be worth watching how they reference the economic climate.

Both companies likely will use humor, but the ads could flop if there’s a perception that they’re teasing people who have lost their jobs. Monster could avoid referencing the job climate at all by focusing on the new marketing alliance with the NFL it announced in November.

E-Trade - On one hand, there may be a lot of cynicism toward an online brokerage like E-Trade, given the amount of money people have lost in the stock market recently. But the company is expected to try and flip things around by focusing on a theme of “liberation” from traditional brokerages. And, of course, the talking baby will return.

Anheuser-Busch - The maker of Budweiser and other beers again leads the pack with nine Super Bowl ads. The Clydesdale horses will make at least one appearance, as will new “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien. But there is talk of this being the end of an era because of A-B sports marketing chief Tony Ponturo’s departure. There is also some speculation that A-B’s new parent company, Belgian brewer InBev, may choose to spend less money on sports advertising in the future.

Coke and Pepsi - Pepsi may have won one battle in the “cola war” when it bought so many first-half ads that it effectively shut out Coke from airing any commercials until third quarter. And Pepsi made headlines when it revealed it would have a 3D ad - in partnership with Dreamworks - for its SoBe LifeWater drink.

Coke, however, has gotten considerable attention for its “Open Happiness” theme, which is the first new slogan by the company in three years. The new campaign is expected to focus on ideas of comfort and optimism, which could play well in this tough economy.

Carmakers - Struggling American automakers Ford, General Motors and Chrysler won’t have a Super Bowl presence this year. That means Toyota, Audi and Hyundai have a better chance of attracting viewers.

German luxury brand Audi will look to repeat the impact of its 2008 advertisement, which helped triple the company’s Web traffic. Hyundai originally was going to push its new high-end Genesis model but may instead run ads promoting a new program that allows car buyers to return their Hyundai if they lose their income.

GoDaddy - The internet registrar has taken pride in its racy Super Bowl commercials and last year even found its ads rejected because of their content.

This year, the company has two ads, including one featuring IndyCar driver Danica Patrick in the shower. (The ad is available online; it’s quite tame.) A second ad features Patrick and several suggestively clad women with names like R. Lemons, R. Calmeros and J. Cornflako - appearing before a congressional panel to discuss their “enhancements.”

GoDaddy, which was one of the first companies to use Super Bowl ads to direct viewers to their Web site, plans to launch “unrated” versions of the ads after the game.

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