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By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Advertisers couldn’t have asked for much more out of the Super Bowl XLII on Sunday.

A nail-biting 17-14 victory by the New York Giants over the New England Patriots likely kept most of the audience glued to the television — and the commercials — until the final seconds.

And while the drama may have been higher on the field than during the breaks, the advertisements nevertheless provided a cast of characters that included supermodels, a sleazy jock, a inspirational horse and a cheeky daytrader in diapers.

This year, the Super Bowl took on even more significance than usual for advertisers, as they tried to push beer, soda, sneakers and cars to consumers stymied by an economic downturn.

Advertisers, moreover, have lately found it more difficult to promote their products and brands over broadcast television, as a strike by Hollywood screenwriters against the major studios has meant fewer hits — and smaller audiences — for


This year has the potential to have more of an impact, said Derek Rucker, assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, which runs a Super Bowl advertising review. “You don’t have as much fresh programming, so this has the potential to generate more interest for the event and the advertising.”

Broadcast by Fox, the Giants will almost surely draw the biggest TV audience of the year, and because of the marquee matchup, could draw the biggest Super Bowl audience of all-time. Prices to buy a 30-second spot averaged $2.7 million.

Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., the largest U.S. brewer, was again a big presence in the game, with its usual parade of lighthearted Bud Light spots, including one featuring Will Ferrell as sleazy over-the-hill jock Jackie Moon who proclaims the beer “refreshes the palate and the loins.”

Even at parties, “when people see Will Ferrell on the screen, they turn up the volume,” said Robert Reiser, Chief Creative Officer of Cossette Communications in New York.

Anheuser-Busch also rolled out one of its traditional Clydesdale advertisements, this one with a “Rocky” theme that had a dalmation training an overlooked horse.

Celebrities also turned up in a number of spots for PepsiCo Inc., with singer Justin Timberlake, supermodel Naomi Campbell, and baseball player Derek Jeter cropping up in spots.

Rival beverage maker Coca-Cola Co returned to the Super Bowl for a second consecutive year, with one commercial set among floats at a parade in New York City, and another set in the world of Washington D.C. politics with Republican Bill Frist and Democrat James Carville.

Victoria’s Secret also returned to the game, with a relatively tame commercial showing supermodel Adriana Lima flirtatiously playing with a football.

Planters took the opposite course, featuring a decidedly unattractive woman who nonetheless wins over a parade of men after dabbing herself with a Planters cashew.

Other spots included an Audi commercial that played on “The Godfather”; an E-Trade commercial featuring a daytrading toddler with an attitude; a futuristic, cinematic advertisement for Under Armour; and a Garmin commercial with Napoleon driving a Mini.

One spot popular with experts, critics and viewers came from Fedex. In it, an office uses a competing delivery service that relies on carrier pigeons, until, that is, the pigeons begin destroying everything in the city.

“Our panel reacted very well to that,” said Kellogg’s Rucker. “Even though Fedex didn’t appear right away, it was clear that it was going to be a Fedex commercial. It was nicely done.”

Doritos received a less enthusiastic reception for its commercial that played on the popularity of talent shows and content created by viewers. The commercial was built around a song by Kina Grannis, a singer who won a Doritos-sponsored contest calling for unsigned artists to submit an original song for the Super Bowl.

But the advertisement had little — or nothing — to do with the brand, experts said.

“That’s not the way to do it. Doritos just isn’t associated very well with unknown musicians,” said Pat McGuinness, Director of Creative Content at Trumpet Advertising in New Orleans.