NEW YORK - It was an epic battle of the creatures last night in the Super Bowl ads, ranging from the cute to the menacing to the inexplicably rhythmic.
Much is riding on the ads, which are the most closely scrutinized of the whole year, as well as the most watched and the most expensive. This year's 30-second spots fetched as much as $2.7 million.
Last year the game drew 93 million viewers, a level that many believe could be surpassed this year given the strong matchup between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, as well as the Patriots' chance to go for a record unbeaten season.
Using critters is hardly a new trick in the ads for the big game, but this year saw some novel and clever uses of animals.
FedEx Corp.'s ad took a decidedly Hitchcockian turn when a corporate underling entrusts shipping operations to a huge squadron of carrier pigeons - eerily reminiscent of The Birds.
When a tribe of giant pigeons winds up wreaking havoc by accidentally dropping huge boxes into traffic and picking up parked cars and hurling them through windows, a cool-headed supervisor decides that calling FedEx would be a good idea.
Toyota Motor Corp. took a stab at the critter theme with a clever spot for its Corolla model, boasting of the noise-blocking ability of the car by putting a young guy in the drivers seat next to a sleeping family of badgers that will gnaw his face off if awakened. PepsiCo, Inc.'s Sobe Life Water brand brought out some dancing lizards to bop along with Naomi Campbell to Michael Jackson's '80s classic "Thriller," whose 25th anniversary edition is coming out later this month.
Elsewhere, job-search site CareerBuilder.com was back in the game with a jarring yet effective ad featuring a bored female office worker whose heart literally jumps out of her chest, struts down to the boss' office and jumps up on the desk with a little sign saying, "I quit." The lesson: Follow your heart, literally.
Anheuser-Busch, Inc., was once again the largest advertiser in the game, with a series of humorous spots for its Bud Light brand and a heartfelt Rocky -inspired story of a Clydesdale horse that doesn't make the first cut for the carriage team, but succeeds after a year of training with an unlikely coach, a Dalmatian dog.
All of Anheuser-Busch's other spots focused on its Bud Light brand and were heavy on sight gags, including guys sneaking beers into a wine-and-cheese party with a loaf of French bread and a big wheel of cheese, a group of hapless cavemen who invent the wheel to bring their cooler of beer to a party, and a guy who gets fire-breathing power from drinking Bud Light, with unfortunate side effects.
Bud Light pushed the envelope with a late-airing ad with Will Ferrell in a locker room and dressed in a cheesy workout outfit, extolling the beer's ability to refresh the palate ... "and the loins."
Several newcomers turned in impressive performances, including Planters nuts, a division of Kraft Foods Inc., which delivered a clever ad featuring a plain-looking woman sporting a full monobrow who still manages to drive men crazy with a secret scent - essence de cashew nut, applied by liberally rubbing cashews against the neck.
Cars.com, an online classified ad company employed some clever humor with car shoppers who didn't have to resort to a "plan B" to get what they wanted from the car dealers - including a medicine man who could shrink heads.
But perhaps the most visually stunning spot came from Coca-Cola Co., which re-entered the bowl last year after a nine-year absence. Borrowing imagery from the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade, giant balloons in the shape of Stewie from Family Guy," the vintage cartoon character Underdog and even Charlie Brown duke it out over the same inflatable bottle of Coke, all playing out over the rooftops of Manhattan.