In one of this year's most-previewed Super Bowl commercials (thanks to an online extra featuring five hours of supermodel Adriana Lima wearing very little), Mr. Sandman spills an extra dose of dream dust on an unsuspecting sleeper, whose Kia-sponsored dreams go into overdrive.
This is, essentially, the same thing that happens to advertising agencies just once a year: At Super Bowl time, all their dreams come true. They are given greater creative licence, the budgets for celebrity cameos and lush production, and often more than 30 seconds to let their ideas breathe.
It's not just a championship football game. The commercials are as closely watched as the on-field action. Here are five trends to watch for this year.
#1: The game before the game
The Super Bowl does not air until Sunday night, but if you haven't seen a good number of ads by now, you're already behind. This year more than ever, companies have been releasing ads for their ads – 10 or 15-second teasers to build anticipation.
"There's the bright light that shines on the day of the Super Bowl, but … there's this whole other thing that happens. Call it the halo," says Suzie Reider, the head of industry development with Google Inc.'s global video team. "There's energy around Super Bowl."
Dogs are popular to draw in viewers and encourage link-sharing. And a pretty lady doesn't hurt, especially when she's made of chocolate. Mars Inc. is using the game to debut a new M&M character, Ms. Brown.
Volkswagen AG has arguably won the pre-game tease war this year. It released not only a teaser featuring the unbeatable combo of adorable puppies and Star Wars; it also pre-released its TV commercial featuring a plucky dog being watched on TV in a convincing replica of the cantina from the Star Wars film. In other words, they released an ad for an ad, followed by an ad within an ad. We give up.
#2: Star power
Pepsi is shelling out for Elton John and Regis Philbin.
GoDaddy.com is, as usual, adding style and class to the celebrity images of race car driver Danica Patrick and personal trainer Jillian Michaels.
Honda's Acura brand has Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno on the payroll.
But it can be a risky move. According to research firm Ace Metrix, ads with celebrities are slightly less effective than those without – and some of the best-loved ads from last year's game relied more on concept than celebrity.
Honda is arguably taking the biggest risk. While it got plenty of attention for a teaser that stoked rumours of a Ferris Bueller sequel , it's a toss-up as to whether fans will take kindly to the film homage that followed, featuring the actor who played the icon of 80s youth taking a decidedly grown-up day off.
#3: You make the ad
A buzzword in advertising right now is user-generated content. Doritos is repeating a successful experiment in asking its fans to create ads, and then asking the public to vote on which one airs during the big game. General Motors also picked up on the trend, which resulted in a winner that goes big on laughs – somewhat unusual for a car company, but a popular tactic for the Super Bowl where viewers look to commercials to be entertained as much as anything.
"You're seeing companies forming a little more of an emotional bond by trying to involve customers in selection of the ad, and in some cases the creation of the ad," says Ken Wong, a professor of marketing at Queen's University and a vice-president with Level5 Strategic Brand Advisors in Toronto.
#4: The newbies
Some brands can stand out just by being new to the game. For the first time in a little more than two decades, a real-estate brand is coming to the table, in a star-studded spot – the first time Century 21 has ever decided to do a Super Bowl ad.
And other new brands are recognizing that there are a good number of women on the couches of American on Sunday night, whether drawn there by male family members or their own fandom. Dannon has the be-dimpled John Stamos flirting dangerously over yoghurt and clothing retailer H&M has a commercial that will appeal more to the ladies who likely buy items from the new Beckham Bodywear collection than the men who are meant to wear them.
"Advertising on the Super Bowl is like a big coming-out party. 'I've arrived, I'm big time, I'm legitimate,'" Prof. Wong says. "It can help to change perceptions."
#5: The car is king
Auto makers represent by far the biggest category in advertising spending during the Super Bowl. This trend really picked up steam last year, when automotive advertisers as a group more than doubled their spend: 9 brands shelled out $77.5-million (U.S.) for a total slice of 12 minutes and 30 seconds of commercial break time, according to Kantar Media. Consider that the year before, 6 companies commanded just 5 minutes of airtime and spent $29.7-million, and in 2009 only 3 brands were present. This year, a full one-third of the ads in the U.S. broadcast are for auto makers such as Kia and Audi ( which is capitalizing on the vampire meme).
"What happened last year, the game's raised," says Brian Thomas, general manager of brand marketing for Volkswagen Group of America. "We have to stand out in that environment."