Kinder, gentler Super Bowl ads this year?

Advertisers say they’ll tone it down, but few offer any specifics

The Associated Press

NEW YORK – As in years past, many Super Bowl advertisers are guarding the secrecy of their 30-second spots with the zeal of a Kremlin intelligence operative. Even so, one thing seems certain: Gas-passing horses, crotch-biting animals and accidental bikini wax treatments will be nowhere in sight.

Just ask advertising executive Jeff Goodby, whose firm created the Budweiser spot last year in which a draft horse spoiled a romantic evening for a young couple riding in a hansom cab. “This year, I think most advertisers are going to be incredibly well-behaved,” he said.

That ad and others aired during last year’s game caused concern in some quarters that advertisers had gone too far in using ribald humor to grab the attention of the young, male audiences that marketers try so desperately hard to reach.

Goodby said advertisers are much more cautious this year.

“Everybody knows where the line is, and I don’t think it will be crossed,” he said. “It’s implicit in the process that you’re not going to get your client in trouble this year.”

Goodby’s San Francisco-based firm, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, is producing a spot for Emerald snack nuts that will be a far cry from the horse ad.

Unicorns and nuts

In it, a father tries to deflect a request from his daughter to share his Emerald nuts by saying that if he does, unicorns will disappear forever. A moment later, a unicorn strides into the living room and chides the nut-hoarding parent: “Ah, that’s not true, Jack.” Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny also chime in before Dad hands over the nuts.

Fox, which is broadcasting the Feb. 6 game, is asking $2.4 million for each half-minute ad this year, up slightly from last year’s $2.3 million rate. Fox said it has sold about 95 percent of the ad space this year.

Most advertisers are keeping their spots under lock and key, hoping to create a sense of anticipation and mystery. That tactic worked wonders a generation ago for Apple Computer Inc., when it introduced the Macintosh computer during the 1984 Super Bowl with an iconic ad featuring a runner hurling a sledge hammer against a giant image of Big Brother.

Bud, Volvo keep mum

Anheuser-Busch, which again will be a top Super Bowl advertiser, purchased 10 of the 30-second commercial spots, but isn’t saying what it plans to do. It also will have what’s known as “category exclusivity,” meaning that competing ads from Coors, Miller and other beer makers will be shut out.

Volvo, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser, will only say it put together a spot for its new V-8 sports utility vehicle.

“Right now, the (ad) is secret, so stay tuned,” said John Maloney, who handles advertising and marketing for Volvo Cars of North America. “First, part of being on the Super Bowl is the anticipation of what you’re going to see. Two, we have a particularly unique execution that, quite frankly, we don’t want anyone else to know what it is.”

Visa spokesman Michael Rolnick was equally tightlipped about his company’s spot, which will extoll the security features of Visa’s check card. Is the ad funny? “It is, and that’s all I can tell you right now,” Rolnick said.

Will ‘Net companies show up?

It’s also unclear whether there will be many ads from Internet companies, as in 1999 when a slew of upstart dot-coms merrily spent their IPO money on Super Bowl ads, only to go down the drain later.

Go Daddy Group Inc., a leading vendor of Internet domain names, will be making its Super Bowl debut. Founder Bob Parsons said his company expects to rake in $200 million this year, ensuring that if the ad for is “a complete whiff, we’re still fine.”

That still doesn’t mean he would let the cat out of the bag. "The ad will be different, something beyond what anyone has seen before, and beyond that I’m sworn to secrecy,” Parsons said.