NEW YORK — Game on! Super Bowl ads are returning to their goofy roots.
Men march across a hillside without pants, toys joyride in Vegas and the miserly Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons” loses his fortune but finds happiness. It’s a sign that people are feeling better — or at least want to feel better — about the economy, experts say.
The commercials today on advertising’s most expensive showcase also aim to appeal to people’s focus on value.
The ad line-up includes everything from economy-priced televisions by Vizio to budget cars from Kia. Denny’s touts free Grand Slams again, Charles Barkley raps about $5 meal deals at Taco Bell, and the 1985 Chicago Bears resurrect their “Super Bowl Shuffle” for pre-paid cell phone brand Boost Mobile.
Super Bowl ads are a much anticipated, and usually funny, sideshow. The broadcast is watched as much for its commercials as it is for the game itself.
Last year’s line-up had several uncharacteristically somber ads. Anheuser-Busch’s Clydesdale ads were traditional and sweet, not funny. The more staid tone reflected the nation’s mood, still in shock and worry over how deep the financial crisis would get.
To be sure, the commercials aren’t all fun and games. A prominent exception is an expected anti-abortion ad by conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. It stars former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner who helped his team win two college football championships. Tebow’s mom was counseled to end her pregnancy but chose not to.
But overall, the laughs are back. “Six months ago if you were optimistic or happy, it was awkward and people looked and said, ‘How insensitive can you be?’ “ said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates in New York. “Now it’s socially acceptable not to be sullen and depressed, but within reason. And I think the Super Bowl provides one of those venues where you can still kick back and have a good time.”
Ten ads to look for during the Super Bowl, which airs today on CBS:
ANHEUSER-BUSCH: The brewer has five minutes of ads this year to pitch Bud Light, Budweiser and others. Scientists choose to drink when they realize an asteroid is coming and a man loves Bud Light so much he builds his house out of its cans. Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong appears in an ad for low-calorie beer Michelob Ultra.
BOOST MOBILE: The 1985 Chicago Bears reunite to perform a new version of the Super Bowl Shuffle, this time pitching the prepaid wireless carrier. Original shuffler Jim McMahon stars, riding on an electric scooter. Other originals including Mike Singletary, Willie Gault, Otis Wilson, Richard Dent, Steve Fuller and Maury Buford, reappear, as does coach Mike Ditka. William “Refrigerator” Perry is absent.
COCA-COLA: The world’s largest soft drink maker has two Super Bowl ads this year. In one, miserly Mr. Burns, the richest man on “The Simpsons,” loses his fortune but finds happiness. In another, a man goes sleepwalking through an African safari.
DENNY’S: The restaurant chain is giving out free Grand Slams again and shows what the announcement will mean for chickens, who are urged in the ad to take any unused vacation time so they can miss out on the extra work involved in serving more people.
DOCKERS: Men march across a hillside, singing happily about not wearing pants. But the ad for Dockers, a Levi Strauss &Co. brand, tells men it’s time to “wear the pants” as part of a new campaign to reinvigorate sales of khakis.
KIA: Children’s toys, including a teddy bear and sock monkey, joyride in the Sorrento SUV. They go bowling, get a tattoo, and party in Las Vegas, set to rock tune “How do you like me now?” by British band The Heavy.
HOMEAWAY.COM: The vacation rental site launches a yearlong campaign tied to the Griswold family of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” fame. The ad, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the quirky, traveling Griswold family, sends viewers to a 15-minute film on the company’s Web site.
SNICKERS: Actress Betty White plays football and tears past her opponents to set herself up for a pass in this ad for the Mars brand. In a teaser, the announcer says, “She’s one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood but would you want her on your team? Watch the Super Bowl and find out.” “Barney Miller” actor Abe Vigoda also appears.
VOLKSWAGEN: The car brand reinvents the game of “punch buggy” to acquaint Americans with its lineup. In the new version called “Punch Dub” (short for “W”), people hit each other when they see any type of Volkswagen, and shout out its color. Comedian Tracy Morgan appears.
TACO BELL: Basketball star Charles Barkley rhymes about everything diners can get in the NBA 5 Buck Box.