Britney Leads Super Bowl Ad Lineup

Britney Spears has the celebrity stage almost to herself in this year’s Super Bowl ad extravaganza. Unless you count Danny DeVito’s appearance as a puppet even shorter than his actual self.

But the relative lack of celebrity firepower in Super Bowl XXXVI’s advertising is somehow fitting in a year that looks less super than Bowls of recent years. Thirty seconds of ad air time is going for “just south of $2 million,” which is on a par with last year’s rate, according to Lou D’Ermilio, a spokesman for Fox, the network broadcasting the game. (Still, some media reports define “just south” as going as low as $1.5 million, a price that hasn’t been seen since the late 1990s.)

Another sign of the ad slump: as of Wednesday, Fox still had a couple of commercials left to sell.

Those sorry facts don’t mean advertisers will try any less hard to entertain the estimated 130 million people that will watch some part of the game. (For those who care, it pits the St. Louis Rams against the New England Patriots.)

The Britney “Now and Then” spots, in which the pop songstress once again extols the virtues of Pepsi, slurp about as much Spears as possible into the two minutes of air time allotted to the commercials. First, in a 90-second trip down Pepsi’s bubbly Memory Lane, Spears appears in vignettes wearing everything from a demure 1950s sweater set to Robert Palmer’s 1980s-skinny-tie-suit in a spoof of his 1989 hit (and accompanying Pepsi commercial), “Simply Irresistible.”

With the heyday of dot-com advertisers being the day-before-yesterday’s news, the role of the Internet in this year’s Super Bowl ads is mostly as a polling place. Britney fans have been directed all week to to vote on which vignette during the 90-second commercial warrants its own 30-second commercial later in the game.

Levi’s used the same tactic. At, viewers could, until early this week, choose from three commercials. The probable winner? A spot directed by Spike Jonze (think Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” video starring Christopher Walken) featuring a guy engaging in some pretty unusual footwork as he walks down the street.

Here’s a sample of some other ads slated to air during the big game:

* Lipton Brisk: The Danny DeVito puppet appears in this commercial for the iced tea, leading an insurrection of the puppets that have starred in the brand’s advertising for years. In the spot, one of NBC News’ big guns (that is, Al Roker) covers the uprising, as does Access Hollywood’s Pat O’Brien.

* Cadillac: For better or worse, the Cadillac campaign launching during the game marks the first time that Led Zeppelin has ever sold one of its songs for commercial use. That song–“Rock and Roll” off 1971’s “Led Zeppelin IV”–is the car maker’s attempt at reaching a younger audience, meaning, presumably, people old enough to remember what band Paul McCartney was in before Wings. Or Wings, for that matter.

* Anheuser-Busch: The brewer is still not saying precisely whassup during the five minutes of air time it has bought during the game, though the “Whassup?!” guys themselves have been retired. However, viewers will likely see a duel between two Comedy Central-like BattleBots over a Bud Light, at least one commercial featuring Cedric the Entertainer and an appearance by the Clydesdales.

* White House Office of Drug Control Policy: The federal government will spend somewhere in the range of $3 million to air two spots with a very pointed message. Directed by Tony Kaye (American History X), they make the case that using drugs helps to fund international terrorism.

* H&R Block: The tax-preparing firm makes its Super Bowl debut in a spot directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and set to the tune of the Beatles’ “Taxman.”

* Movies: Disney will preview a couple of upcoming films, including the latest Jerry Bruckheimer flick Bad Company, starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock as mismatched covert agents, and M. Night Shyamalan’s new thriller Signs, starring Mel Gibson as a man obsessed with crop circles; MGM will showcase the Bruce Willis WWII drama Hart’s War; Warners will likely unspool teasers for the Robert De Niro-Eddie Murphy buddy flick Showtime, the Al Pacino-Robin Williams crime thriller Insomnia and the Arnold Schwarzenegger-vs.-terrorists action film Collateral Damage; and look for New Line to promote its suddenly untitled Austin Powers 3.

* Quizno’s: Cliff Freeman, the creator of spots such as Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” and, more recently, the hamster that shoots out of a cannon for Cyberian Outpost, is back. And it looks like his mood has not been altered by the events of the past several months. This commercial, for the regional sub shop chain, shows a woman getting shot in the neck with a dart gun when she picks a competitor’s sandwich.

If you don’t laugh, the terrorists will have won.