NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Budweiser commercials about a returning soldier and a love-struck puppy emerged as winners in the high-stakes brand battle during football's Super Bowl, as advertisers used Hollywood stars and slick cars to woo consumers.
The Budweiser ads took the two top spots in online buzz immediately following the game, according to iSpot, which tracks video views and social media comments. One showed a soldier coming home to a parade, and the other featured a Labrador puppy and the beermaker's famous Clydesdale horses.
Brands paid $4 million on average for 30 seconds of ad time during the game, seen by an estimated 100 million viewers who annually make it U.S. television's most-watched event. The Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos 43-8.
Budweiser, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, and other brands opted to stir people's emotions, rather than seek cheap laughs, said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which annually reviews Super Bowl ads.
"We are seeing companies talk about more inspirational topics," Calkins said. "I think this reflects a little bit how people are feeling in the country. People are feeling a little hopeful."
A Cheerios commercial, featuring parents telling their daughter she will soon have a brother, won high marks from advertising executives and marketing experts. Some complaints appeared online last year when Cheerios used the same couple, a black man and a white woman.
"I liked the Cheerios spot, the bravery of it and the fact they didn't run from consumers who didn't like it," said Brett Craig, executive creative director for Deutsch LA.
Companies relied especially heavily on celebrities this year, from Ellen DeGeneres for a new Beats Music app to former quarterback Tim Tebow for T-Mobile US Inc, which played off his free agency to promote their message that consumers shouldn't need a contract. Tebow was seen in a variety of jobs, including as a rock singer.
Adding star salaries and production costs likely brought the cost of some campaigns to over $10 million, according to advertising executives.
Auto makers dominated the telecast. Chrysler - which scored with a Clint Eastwood pitch in 2012 - again stood out, featuring 72-year-old folk singer Bob Dylan in a pitch for the new Chrysler 200 sedan. Dylan's song "Things Have Changed" played in the background as the singer appeared on screen to narrate a story that celebrated America and U.S. auto workers.
"It was very skillful and epic," said Andrew Essex, vice chairman at advertising agency Droga5. Other experts, however, said viewers complained online that Dylan had sold out.
Luxury carmaker Maserati, owned by Fiat, surprised with a dramatic 90-second ad starring young actress Quvenzhane Wallis and featuring tornadoes, waves and flocks of flying birds. The ad promoted a new lower-priced Maserati that starts at $67,000.
Jerry Seinfeld reunited with cast members from his hit 1990s sitcom for an episode of his online show "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" on Sony Corp 's Crackle.com. Part of the episode aired during halftime.
Internet domain company GoDaddy.com, known for its racy ads, featured a real-life machine engineer who announced in this year's ad she was quitting her job to run a puppeteer business.
SodaStream's ad with sultry actress Scarlett Johansson fell flat, according to Jim Elliott, chief executive officer of Y&R.
"I thought SodaStream was trying to score points with celebrity and didn't deliver on the idea," he said.
As many ads were previewed online ahead of the game, the usual sense of anticipation was not there, said Jim Joseph, president of the North America division for Cohn & Wolfe, who discussed the ads with viewers through Twitter. Ads or teasers were viewed 130 million times before kickoff, according to iSpot.
"People are a little disappointed in general," Joseph said. "There doesn't seem to be the surprise factor that we have seen in other years."
The blowout victory by Seattle likely reduced the audience for second-half ads, said Claudia Caplan, senior vice president for business development at MDC Partners. "There have to be a lot of people who just bailed," she said.