Super Bowl Ads Go Amateur

User-generated spots may prove the touchdown advertisers need to meet viewers' ever-growing expectations for the big game

Apple's (AAPL) 1984 TV ad. Coke's (KO) Mean Joe Green spot. Budweiser's (BUD) Clydesdales bowing their heads toward Ground Zero. The bar has been set so high for creative excellence in advertising that we have come to expect great things once a year from an industry most of us have come to equate with spammers and phone solicitors.

More and more Super Bowl watchers spend their normal TV time blasting through ads while they watch TiVo'ed episodes of 24 and Lost. But on Sunday, says Harris Interactive research, probably 70% to 80% will stay put during the commercial breaks to see what Madison Avenue brought to the game.

Extravagant Moments

Part of the intrigue in this year's game stems from the fact that three of the ads will be user-generated. Their ideas came from amateurs, not the high-priced creative executives at the ad agencies. And those look to be better than about 90% of the ads that advertisers released prior to the game.

Despite the many new and inexpensive ways of getting brands in front of highly targeted niche audiences—from viral vids on YouTube to sponsored links on Google (GOOG)—the number of viewers who watch the Super Bowl is steadily growing, with an estimated 90.7 million tuning in in 2006.

The price of a 30-second spot during the game continues to rise as well. This year's 31 advertisers will pay as much as $2.6 million a pop.

Get a Kick Out of These

For that kind of scratch, advertisers want not only the audience ratings but also the buzz and validation from having posted an entertaining and engaging ad. "I'd be lying if I said those postgame rankings didn't mean anything," says Deutsch/LA Chief Executive Eric Hirshberg, whose firm has a GM (GM) ad in the big game.

So how did they do? In the accompanying slide show, BusinessWeek Marketing Editor Burt Helm and Senior Correspondent David Kiley offer their picks and pans. Click here to review their picks, watch the ads, and make your picks for the best of 2007's Super Bowl ads.