By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - General Motors scored with an Armageddon-proof Chevy truck while a Clint Eastwood pep talk for America won notice for rival Chrysler during the high-stakes brand battle at Sunday's Super Bowl.
Other commercials from companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola repeated old themes or failed to stand out during American TV's most valuable advertising time, according to industry experts and online comments.
Companies that spent $3.5 million on average for a 30-second spot ran commercials featuring comedy, celebrity and skin as the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in front of a TV audience estimated to reach about 100 million.
One GM ad that showed a Chevy Silverado truck surviving a 2012 Mayan end-of-the-world scenario won praise from marketing experts.
The spot "really stood out" among a heavy rotation of car commercials, said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which runs a review of Super Bowl ads.
In the ad, the truck's driver looks for his friend, "Dave," but learns Dave, who drives a Ford, didn't make it.
A pre-game letter from a Ford attorney asked GM not to run the ad, arguing that insurance industry data show it is Ford, and not GM, that makes the safer pickup truck.
INSIDER: Ferris Bueller and vampires: http://r.reuters.com/jeq46s
See all the ads on MediaFile: http://r.reuters.com/kar46s
In a Chrysler Group LLC commercial, a Dirty Harry-like Clint Eastwood proclaimed it "Halftime in America," a reminder of Ronald Reagan's optimistic "Morning in America" slogan, and chronicled Detroit's fall and rise to rally the rest of the country. The ad was similar to a rapper Eminem's Chrysler commercial talking up Detroit last year.
"It's tough to do a serious commercial in the Super Bowl. I think it will last," said Ewen Cameron, CEO for WPP ad agency Berlin Cameron United.
The Eastwood ad generated online buzz for its emotional appeal and comments that it looked like an Obama re-election commercial from Chrysler, recipient of a taxpayer funded-bailout.
"Powerful spot," David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama's re-election team, tweeted about the ad.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer also weighed in on Twitter. "Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on," he tweeted.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign had no involvement with the ad.
According to executives from Comcast Corp's NBC television network, broadcaster of the Super Bowl, a 30-second commercial slot cost $3.5 million on average this year, up from $3 million for last year's Super Bowl, which was on News Corp's Fox network. The game could easily generate more than a quarter of a billion dollars in ad sales.
NFL games, especially the Super Bowl, rank among the dwindling number of TV programs that still draw huge live audiences.
The games are so valuable to advertisers that the NFL recently secured hefty pay increases that will bring in about $6 billion a year from Walt Disney Co's ESPN, broadcast networks and satellite TV provider DirecTV for rights to air games and sell the advertising time.
The average price of Super Bowl ads have risen more than 50 percent in the last 10 years, defying economic downturns and secular industry issues. NBC sold out all 70 spots around this year's game shortly after Thanksgiving weekend in November and reached a new high with one slot selling for around $4 million.
COKE, BUD ADS GO FLAT
Anheuser-Busch, which has typically bought exclusivity as the only beer advertiser during recent Super Bowls, was again the biggest spender, according to industry sources.
The company, known for humorous ads, used straightforward pitches for its new Bud Light Platinum in the game's first half. Comedy returned in the second half with a spot featuring a dog trained to fetch Bud Light.
"Other than that, I think the Bud ads were kind of dull," said Charles Taylor, marketing professor at the Villanova School of Business.
Coke ranked among companies trying to get fans with tablets or smartphones talking about their ads on social media. Aside from their TV spots, Coke's trademark polar bears appeared on Twitter, Facebook and a website responding to the game. Fans could follow along with a Twitter hashtag #GameDayPolarBears.
"We've seen that before with the polar bears. There's no real novelty there," said George Belch, a San Diego State University marketing professor.
Rival Pepsi offered a free video download of "X Factor USA" winner Melanie Amaro's performance of "Respect" in its ad for fans using the Shazam app. Elton John also appeared.
Many ads generated buzz well before the game began as advertisers posted them online days ago to try to build early excitement. Millions of people had viewed pitches from Volkswagen, Honda and others ahead of the contest.
Volkswagen featured a dog getting in shape to chase the new Beetle plus a nod to last year's "Star Wars"-themed spot with an appearance by Darth Vader in the movie's alien-filled cantina. (http://link.reuters.com/jar46s) (http://link.reuters.com/nuq46s)
In a Honda Motor Co spot, Matthew Broderick played off his iconic film role as Ferris Bueller by calling in sick and spending a day cruising around town in a Honda CR-V. (http://link.reuters.com/muq46s)
Other celebrities made appearances. Buff and tattooed soccer star David Beckham posed in his underwear for Swedish fashion retailer H&M. Actor Will Arnett promoted online video service Hulu Plus.
Some familiar campaigns returned. E*Trade Financial Corp brought back its talking baby. CareerBuilder.com's chimps ruined a business trip. GoDaddy, the website for domain names, kept its racy theme going with race-car driver Danica Patrick and fitness trainer Jillian Michaels applying body paint to an apparently nude model.
Many ads featured "babies, celebrities, big musical productions, a lot of the usual things. It was a little bit familiar," WPP's Cameron said.
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine)