It's time for that annual winter ritual where people gather before their TV screens to whoop and holler as they gobble down unhealthy treats. Yes, it's Super Bowl time. And Sunday's NFL championship wouldn't be complete without a look at its uber-expensive advertising, which is priced at an all-time high. On Friday, NBC, a unit of General Electric Co., said it was in talks to sell the last two of the 67 spots for the game, which have gone for between $2.4 million and $3 million per 30-second slot. "Considering the state of the economy in the United States, we couldn't be any more thrilled," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. The Super Bowl remains the premier advertising event: It boasts a U.S. audience of 100 million, the biggest of any American telecast. It's also a marketer's dream: Viewers actually like watching the commercials. This year, a few commercials will reflect the weak economy, but by and large, the ads aim to deliver glitz, guffaws and groans — like they do every year. There will be celebrity appearances in ads, including Conan O'Brien for Bud Light, John Turturro for Heineken USA Inc. and Jason Statham for Audi of America Inc. Animals will figure prominently again, with Anheuser-Busch's Clydesdales expected to appear in three of seven commercials from the Budweiser brewer. One is a tearjerker about a horse that joins the circus. Internet domain registrar The Go Daddy Group Inc., will air a somewhat risque spot, as it has done in the past. While its less-than-slick ads that the company made itself, featuring racer Danica Patrick, are bound to make viewers groan, Go Daddy doesn't care. At least Go Daddy got approved. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals got steamed because NBC rejected its ad for vegetarianism that featured half-naked women playing with vegetables. To be sure, such tempests are part of the marketing shenanigans surrounding the game. At the very least, it drives people online to watch the banned ad. John Gerzema, chief insights officer at Y&R, a unit of advertising giant WPP Group PLC, said keeping the brand top of mind after the Super Bowl gets advertisers the most bang for the small fortune spent to buy air time. A 30-second Super Bowl spot is about 20 times more expensive than the average commercial time on prime time network programs this time of year, according to TNS Media. As such, "the Super Bowl is a colossal waste of money if you can't integrate your events around it," Gerzema said. The key is to "quickly move from the TV screen to the Internet." Anheuser-Busch gets it. It created a social media Web site at AB-extras.com that features the stories behind its Super Bowl ads with pictures, videos and interviews. Monster Worldwide Inc., a job-search company, is linking with the NFL to hire a "Director of Fandemonium" from a base of regular fans. It has a signing bonus of $100,000 and the new hire has one year to appear in promotional events. Monster also started marketing through social networking sites and bought search engine keywords like "fandemonium" for the ad campaign. It bought two ad spots on the Super Bowl. "At the end of the day, we want to drive traffic to the site," said Ted Gilvar, Monster's global marketing officer. "It's not just airing the spots and waiting." Here are some Super Bowl advertising highlights. — The old reliables: Marquee names that return year after year include Anheuser-Busch. This year, the brewer's ads will play up its American identity. That's timely given that the company was bought last year by Belgium's InBev SA for $52 billion. In a Clydesdale ad, one of the horses looks back at its ancestry. The ad with O'Brien depicts the late-night host reluctantly signing up to star in a commercial touting Bud Light in Sweden, with hilarious results. PepsiCo Inc. is a longtime advertiser but this year it has a first for the Super Bowl. The company's SoBe Life Water division will have a 60-second commercial in 3-D, featuring its ultra-hip lizards. SoBe also is partnering with DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. to give away more than 125 million 3-D glasses for a 90-second sneak preview of "Monsters vs. Aliens," which hits theaters March 27. (Glasses are available at SoBe displays in retail stores.) Coca-Cola Co. will put Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers in an ad touting Coke Zero called "Mean Troy," reprising a 1979 classic that starred another Steeler, "Mean" Joe Greene. The company's other spots include "Avatar," in which people morph to resemble their digital alter egos, and "Heist," in which insects steal a sleeping man's Coke. — Economy-related advertisers: Ads from job-listings companies CareerBuilder.com and Monster, which has redesigned its Web site for the first time in more than a decade, are appropriate given the high unemployment rate. One Monster ad shows folks working in jobs for which they're not particularly suited. CareerBuilder.com's ad features a koala bear and a co-worker in a Speedo. "We know there are a lot of people out there who are feeling anxious about the job market," said Richard Castellini, CareerBuilder's chief marketing officer, in a statement. — The Super Bowl newbies: GE will air a 30-second ad about efficient and sustainable technologies for delivering electricity. The spot features a scarecrow and a modern adaptation of the "The Wizard of Oz" song "If I Only Had A Brain." Denny's plans a spot called "Thugs" that makes fun of the breakfasts served at rival restaurants compared to its hefty Grand Slam. Mars Inc.'s Pedigree pet foods unit will air an ad about pet adoption featuring some exotic pets. It's already available on YouTube. H&R Block is returning to the Super Bowl after five years, and this time, it's got Abe Vigoda. The "Barney Miller" actor will play the character of Death — along the lines that nothing is certain except death and taxes. ——— AP Business Writer Ryan Nakashima in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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