Some make you laugh, others (attempt to) make you cry. Others, well, they're forgettable.

It's all part of the fun at the Super Bowl, where brands spend upwards of $3 million for 30 seconds to capture the world's attention. "More than a game, the Super Bowl is a cultural event, a truly American spectacle, and the ads are very much a part of the experience," notes Advertising Age's digital editor, Michael Learmonth. To be sure, airtime in between downs will be dominated by the big players: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and GM are steadfast Super Bowl advertisers. But the little guys are taking a shot, too. Here's a look at ads from seven (smaller) brands taking a run at prime time.   



Hulu's debut Super Bowl spot, starring Will Arnett, features the Arrested Development star trying to break into the Hollywood "H." The thrust of this ad spot teaser is social media: Viewers are encouraged to tweet with the hashtag #mushymush and urged to follow @HuluPlus on Twitter. Founded in 2007 in Los Angeles, the video-on-demand service sold a 27 percent stake to Disney in 2009. In 2011, the company made a reported $420 million.  Also of note: The ad was directed Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the trendy Boulder-based advertising firm whom you may recall from's 2011 Worlds Coolest Offices



This year, GoDaddy has gone meta. The Web-hosting service was founded in 1997 in Scottsdale, Arizona, by Bob Parsons, and sold in July 2011 for $2.25 billion to investors. After years of Super Bowl ads that drew attention—and ire—for featuring scantily clad models promoting the company's Web-hosting service (the GoDaddy Girls), the company has turned the attention inward. In the ad, Jillian Michaels, the actress and fitness guru, is painting a nude young women with the company's new product: a ".co" suffix for URLs.  "Who won't notice a hot model in body paint?" she says.

Every Super Bowl has at least one advertising controversy: Will be the company that receives that inauspicious award in 2012? The online jobs portal, which was founded in Chicago in 1995 by Rob McGowan, earned nearly $600 million in revenue in 2010, according to the latest data available. Its ad this year features chimps wearing suits and ties terrorizing a young man working a dull 9-to-5 office job, rehashes a similar theme from last year when Chimps (also in suits and ties) locked the actor in his car in the company parking lot. In 2011, one Chicago zoo even mounted a campaign against the company to remove the ad, fearing that the commercial would inspire people to buy the chimps as pets (remember: they're an endangered species).

Kauffman Foundation

"The next great entrepreneur is out there. Will it be you?" asks the non-profit entrepreneurship foundation's first Super Bowl ad. The 30-second spot reportedly cost less than $400,000 dollars to make, and will air in only four major markets (racking up not all, but a sizeable portion of the nearly 172 million anticipated Game-Day viewers). The Missouri-based group was founded in the 1960s by local entrepreneur Ewig Kauffman, whose mission was to foster start-ups and encourage innovation. 

Oikos Yogurt

Stoneyfield (and also partner Dannon) are touting their line of Greek yogurt in a 30-second commercial starring actor John Stamos and a lovely lady counterpart that will reportedly air during the third quarter of the game. This is the first time a yogurt brand has paid the hefty price tag for a Super Bowl spotlight. The New-Hampshire based Stoneyfield was founded in 1983 by entrepreneur and organic farmer Gary Hirshberg.

Dubbed the “Negotiator's Last Deal," Priceline's ad features actor William Shatner—as usual—trying to save a family of vacationers from "paying too much" on travel. But unlike other ads, (spoiler alert!) Shatner doesn't survive this dramatic mission. The commercial marks the real end to Shatner's 14-years as the Connecticut company's spokesman. "One of the challenges we face is that Bill is so awesome and so closely associated with Priceline that we needed to grab back consumers' attention," Chief Marketing Officer Brett Keller told Advertising Age recently. Priceline was launched in 1998 by digital entrepreneur Jay Walker. 

Blast from the Past: Apple, 1984

For small companies looking to make a statement in 30 seconds or less, Apple set the bar in 1984. Back then, Apple was still a growing company looking to shake up the tech world and break IBM's hold over the market. Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), Apple's Super Bowl spot, which announced the imminent release of the Macintosh computer, looked more like a sci-fi movie than a commercial—a runner throws a sledge hammer through a giant screen that was mesmerizing hundreds of people. It's arguably one of the most memorable commercials in advertising history.  

Published on: Feb 3, 2012