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Advertisers pull out all the stops on their Super Bowl commercials

Sunday is the big day, when 110 million people will have their eyes glued to the TV, watching the action and praying for a win.

There also will be a football game.

Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for advertisers. It’s the one day consumers – young and old, male and female – watch commercials for products from deodorant to soft drinks and beer.

That captive, diverse audience spurred companies big and small to pay a record $4.5 million this year for each 30-second spot airing during the game.

But the return on investment is no sure thing. That’s why advertisers pull out their biggest guns, devoting nearly a year’s time and millions of dollars trying to be the most talked-about brand of game day.

“They put (their ad) out there and hope to break through the clutter and be the one that stands out the most,” said Tod Martin, president at the advertising agency The Martin Group.

In the grand Super Bowl tradition of big budgets and high production value, Mercedes-Benz put Oscar-winning director Robert Stromberg to work on a retelling of the classic tortoise vs. the hare fable. Stromberg used a mind-bending mix of 3-D digital animation and live-action shots to create the ad, which shows a tortoise blasting to the finish line in a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT sports car. The ad features 15 highly-detailed, computer-generated woodland creatures, and it took Stromberg’s team three solid months to nail down the special effects alone, according to an interview he did with Fast Company magazine.

Mountain Dew, targeting its young consumer base, goes over the top, too. Its ad for energy drink Kickstart features ear-splitting dance music and a spontaneous dance party that erupts after a sip of the drink – complete with twerking CGI dogs and gyrating furniture.

Snickers has already won over a legion of fans with its spot, a continuation of its “You’re not you when you’re hungry” campaign. It released a 22-second teaser online showing a classic scene from “The Brady Bunch” with tough-guy “Machete” actor Danny Trejo standing in for Marcia Brady. It was an instant viral hit that had consumers clamoring for more. The buzz prompted Snickers to release its full Super Bowl commercial early, garnering millions of views and heaps of social media buzz.

In years past, brands have tried to differentiate themselves by having the loudest ad on Super Bowl Sunday. But this year, rather than shouting above the cacophony, a few companies are taking a quieter route.

Website builder Squarespace’s ad, featuring mellow-dude icon Jeff Bridges, could not be more different from the usual Super Bowl fare. With Bridges softly reciting relaxing phrases over ambient music, it literally aims to lull viewers to sleep.

Dove pulls back, too. Its Men+Care ad plays against the macho male stereotype, opting instead for poignant vignettes of dads sharing tender moments with their children. The tagline is “Care makes a man stronger.”

The classic Super Bowl standbys will be in heavy rotation, with few tweaks to their usual strategies. Budweiser, perennially crowned the fan favorite of Super Bowl commercials, is back with its winning mix of puppies and Clydesdales for a three-part, tear-jerking saga.

Mainstay chipmaker Doritos will be on hand to air its trademark quirky, crowd-sourced ads. Victoria’s Secret has models in football uniforms reminding men not to “drop the ball” on Valentine’s Day. And halftime show sponsor Pepsi – which is keeping its ads under wraps until they air live on game day – will be everywhere.

But those who stand to gain the most from their Super Bowl investment are the newcomers. Mophie, which makes a line of portable cellphone chargers, is already making waves with its big-budget apocalypse ad comparing a dead cellphone battery to the end of the world.

“No one had ever heard of Mophie before,” said Scott Kerrigan, a senior copywriter at SKM Group. “Everyone will know who they are after Sunday.”

But it’s no longer enough to simply put a commercial on TV. The smartest brands maximize their Super Bowl investment by leaking ads early, running contests, creating buzz on social media and creating ancillary advertising campaigns to support the commercial itself. Dove has integrated its game-day ad into its in-store merchandising. Mercedes Benz premiered its commercial on The Ellen Degeneres Show. BMW’s commercial, which features vintage footage of Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel, made its debut on The Today Show.

Doritos got lots of mileage from its “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign, crowd-sourcing consumer-made commercials and selecting the best ones to air during the big game. Not only did the chip company avoid production costs, it created a tremendous buzz among consumers, with contest hopefuls engaging their friends and social media followers to vote for their submissions.

Newcastle beer, with its #BandOfBrands campaign, pooled the resources of 37 companies – everything from hello toothpaste to Vanity Fair – to make the first crowd-funded commercial. All 37 companies that contributed funds were crammed into the same 30-second spot. Though it was only enough money to air the commercial in one market, the ad has gotten as much buzz as any nationally-airing ad.

To support the Squarespace ad, Jeff Bridges created a full-lenth relaxation album called “Sleeping Tapes,” which can be downloaded at a website generated by the company. Proceeds from the sale of the album go to the charity No Kid Hungry.

Still, it’s anybody’s guess whether companies will get their $4.5 million worth.

“In a lot of cases, you can’t measure an ad’s impact, because it’s about how consumers feel,” said Matt Lowe, vice president and creative director at the advertising agency Crowley Webb. “It’s that intangible brand-building that’s immeasurable but it’s also invaluable.”

email: schristmann@buffnews.com