While most viewers think of Super Bowl  commercials as big-budget, star-studded enterprises, some smaller companies are hoping to stand out from the $2.6-million-a-spot crowd this year by taking a do-it-yourself approach, industry watchers say.

For some, that means producing the spots themselves. For others, it means enlisting entrepreneurial customers.

"We're seeing a big trend in user-generated ads," says Mary Hilton, a spokeswoman for the American Advertising Federation, a Washington-based trade group. She says the deliberately amateur look of the ads -- for which some clients will actually pay top dollar -- is a natural offshoot of reality TV and the success of YouTube. "It's a way of tapping into that and standing out."
That's no mean feat. Ever since Joe Namath got "creamed" by Farah Fawcett in a 1972 Noxema spot, the Super Bowl has become one of the most watched and competitive advertising showcases  in the world. Along the way, the game has brought a string of classic television commercials into more than 130 million people worldwide every year.

Over the past two decades, ads alone have accounted for more than 11 hours of airtime, fetching a total of $1.72 billion in network advertising sales, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a New York-based market research firm.

During that time, the price of running an ad during the game has more than quadrupled -- this year, CBS is charging an estimated $2.6 million per 30-second spot.

With that kind of reach -- and price tag -- it isn't surprising that the vast majority of Super Bowl commercials are big-budget campaigns commissioned by large corporations and typically produced by well-established international ad firms based in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles especially for the telecast.

Still, over the past few years, a handful of smaller companies and ad firms have found innovative ways to get a piece of the action.
Take GoDaddy.com. This year, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based domain-name registrar is shunning high-priced advertisers after at least three agency-produced spots were rejected by the network.

GoDaddy, which ranked No. 137  on the 2006 Inc. 500 list of the nation's fastest growing private companies, has made a name for itself in recent years with the cheeky "GoDaddy Girl" spots -- a spoof of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during Super Bowl XXXVII.

This year, the company got nearly as much attention from publicizing its supposed battles with network censors -- a strategy it's used in the past to boost visibility. One unintended victim was Shine Advertising, a small agency based in Madison, Wisc., that cancelled its account with GoDaddy just weeks before this year's game.

According to GoDaddy founder and CEO Bob Parsons, the ads typically cost about $1.5 million to make. The company saved roughly a third of the cost by producing the ad themselves, he said.

"It's the best money we spend all year," Parsons said at a press conference on Thursday announcing this year's ad. "Those spots have made this company."

After the racy ads aired during last year's game, the number of visitors at GoDaddy.com jumped 1,517 percent, he said.

Parsons said the approved ad offers a quick tour through GoDaddy's main office that ends in the "marketing department," and features GoDaddy Girl Candice Michelle, along with racing star Danica Patrick and others.

"It certainly won't disappoint our viewers," Parsons said, describing them as predominantly 25- to 38-year-old males.   

Other businesses taking a DIY approach include Salesgenie.com, Lionsgate, and Walt Disney.

Yet, perhaps the ultimate in homemade production values goes to General Motors, Frito-Lay, and the National Football League itself, which are each running consumer-generated ads.

For its Chevy commercial, GM rallied more than 400 teams of college students last fall to come up with a concept from the tagline: "Chevy, An American Revolution."

Five finalists were then chosen to pitch their ideas to company executives in Detroit. The winning pitch will be aired in a 30-second spot this Sunday.

In the case of Frito-Lay, contestants contributed not only ideas for a Doritos ad, but also produced and submitted finished ads. The winning spot is set to run in a lucrative first-quarter slot.

Still, the DIY look doesn't always come from an amateur. Nationwide Insurance, which is running an already buzzworthy spot featuring Britney Spears' estranged husband Kevin Federline, went off the beaten path to enlist Irving, Texas-based TM Advertising for its reality TV-inspired ad.

As if traveling full circle, the low-production-value ad, which opens with Federline dreaming of rap stardom only to awaken behind a fast-food counter, has already been posted on YouTube.