All the telltale signs are there: Pepsi is rolling out the red carpet for Prince, Jessica Simpson is peddling pizza, Jay-Z is chugging Budweiser and Robert Goulet is sabotaging your keyboard.
It must be Super Bowl Sunday.
The biggest party of the year for football fans and aficionados of clever advertising is upon us, and this year's ode to the pigskin promises the usual smorgasbord of music superstars, big-name brands and celebrity-studded marketing campaigns competing for viewers' attention.
Starting with what will actually be taking place down on the field, the family-friendly Cirque du Soleil will take center stadium for a high-flying pregame show, after which Billy Joel is slated to croon the national anthem, an honor he also performed in 1989, back when the 49ers had Joe Montana and Joel had Christie Brinkley.
Prince will entertain the masses during the Pepsi Halftime Show, further distancing the event from the possibility of any boob-related mishaps.
But while millions of butts (90.7 million last year) will be planted in living rooms all over America, ostensibly to watch the Indianapolis Colts take on the Chicago Bears for Super Bowl XLI glory, these days an increasingly large number of said behinds belong to people more interested in what happens between plays—i.e., the commercials.
Luckily for those viewers who would rather go to the bathroom during a punt return than during the brand-new Doritos ad, companies are well aware of how golden the opportunity is to unveil a new commercial at the Super Bowl and have planned accordingly.
"There is no other event quite like the Super Bowl," said Andrew Burke, VP of marketing for returning advertiser Diamond Foods, which on Sunday is rolling out a new multimedia campaign for Emerald Nuts featuring actor-singer Robert Goulet. "It's rare to not only have that broad audience but also the attention that people are paying to your commercial message."
In the age of TiVo, YouTube, and countless other methods for either skipping commercials or catching up with them at a later time, the fact that there's still such a thing as "Super Bowl Commercials" instead of only "commercials that premiered during the Super Bowl" is something.
And don't think CBS doesn't know this. This year the network is getting up to $2.6 million per 30-second national spot, a slight increase from 2006's $2.5 million price tag.
"There are no shows on network TV that if you took the commercials out, the ratings would go down," Bob Horowitz, executive producer of Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials, a prime-time special airing Friday on CBS, told CNN Money. "It's the opposite with the Super Bowl. Here, if you took the commercials away, you'd probably lose 25 percent of the audience."
As of Wednesday, 25 advertisers had bought time, with some locking up multiple spots, according to Jo Ann Ross, head of ad sales at CBS.
Super Bowl stalwarts PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Pizza Hut, Doritos, FedEx, Sprint, General Motors and Careerbuilder.com (which has ditched the chimps in favor of office workers turned gladiators) are all debuting ads on Sunday, as are first-timers Snapple and Hewlett-Packard.
While brands such as Doritos, Alka-Seltzer, Chevrolet and the NFL went all 21st century and are trotting out ads created by viewers that were submitted online (Doritos, for instance, received more than 1,000 entries in its "Crash the Super Bowl Challenge" and will air the winning ad on Sunday), plenty of familiar faces will be returning, as well.
Jessica Simpson, for instance, will be strutting her stuff in honor of Pizza Hut's Cheesy Bites once again, her fourth straight Super Bowl ad appearance.
"I know everyone was really upset when the Cheesy Bites went away, as was I," the pop star told Entertainment Tonight last week. "Now they're back, and I'm happy to help them."
As usual, the beer will be flowing from many different angles Sunday, including from a Budweiser spot featuring Jay-Z facing off against former Dolphins coach Don Shula in a football-themed chess game and another with Carlos Mencia teaching an English class how to use a southern drawl when ordering a Bud Light.
Kevin Federline, following in the footsteps of Fabio and Hammer, goes from rap wannabe to burger flipper in the latest "Life Comes at You Fast" ad from Nationwide Mutual Insurance, a spot that has already drawn ire from the restaurant industry for its portrayal of fast-food workers. (Meanwhile, fellow game-day advertiser Taco Bell is standing by.)
Preaching to the football-lovin' choir, the NFL Network will unveil the most star-studded ad of them all, "Hanging with Chad," depicting a what-if Super Bowl party thrown by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson. The "if only" guest list includes Martha Stewart, David Beckham, former U.S. attorney general Janet Reno, Jimmy Fallon, LL Cool J, Rascal Flatts, Two and a Half Men kid Angus T. Jones, and football stars Reggie Bush, Edgerrin James and Warren Sapp. Oh, and they've thrown in Triumph the Insult Comic Dog for good measure.
Somehow, all that interaction takes place in 30 seconds.
But while producing a shiny new ad for the actual game remains the goal, advertisers are fully aware that the buck doesn't stop there.
"We view the Super Bowl as being much more than just a 30-second spot," Burke of Diamond Foods said. "We're using it as a platform off of which we can launch this new communications campaign."
The snack food purveyor has actually been advertising its commercial, having already bought up multiple online banner ads designed to pique viewers' interest in its upcoming third-quarter Super Bowl ad kicking off Diamond's new "Emerald Nuts = Natural Energy" campaign. The giggle-worthy spot features office workers who need to find a way to beat the midafternoon energy slump or else be visited by a mischievous Robert Goulet. The dapper entertainer then jumps on a desk, spills coffee on a computer and engages in various other shenanigans while the energy-bereft are not looking.
And then even before it is uploaded on YouTube, the spot will be available for viewing on the Emerald Nuts Website, where various other video clips and extras related to the Goulet ad can be found, as well.
Similarly, Anheuser-Busch will try to steer viewers to Bud.TV, a new online entertainment network launching Monday, and encourage people to vote for their favorite commercials via text message.
In fact, every single ad will direct viewers to either an online component of the campaign or a company Website, promising consumer interaction galore until Super Bowl XLII.
YouTube, which is already well stocked with previous years' Super Bowl ads, including the classic 1984 Apple Computer spot, is planning on being a one-stop shop for this year's commercials. The video-sharing site will bundle the ads in a gallery right after the broadcast is over, after which users will be able to rank, discuss and share their faves, just as they can with all those Daily Show and kitten clips.
And in case you missed anything at all, the NFL will be selling Super Bowl highlights on iTunes for $1.99 per download starting Monday.