Anheuser-Busch / Associated Press
Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 | 9:50 p.m.
This time, there will be puppies.
Yes, the Budweiser Clydesdales will return for their annual Super Bowl Sunday commercial blitz. They will be joined by a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and, for the second year, by an actor who grew up around horses on his family’s Houston-area ranch and who is looking to become a Super Bowl Sunday ad perennial in his own right.
But mainly — and this can’t be emphasized too strongly — there will be puppies: a litter of 10-week-old wriggly, tail-wagging golden Labradors with the bravado of escape artists and sufficient charm to make a brace of 6-foot-tall, 2,000-pound horses fall into obedient formation.
These are the elements of ''Puppy Love,'' one of 40-plus advertisements that will air Sunday night during Fox’s telecast of Super Bowl XLVIII. Even before kickoff, it and other spots already have been seen by millions online and on TV as Super Bowl advertisers strive to get extra bang for their bucks — $4 million for a 30-second spot, double that for a 60-minute ad like ''Puppy Love,'' plus production costs.
It’s the second year Budweiser’s lead Clydesdale ad has featured Humble High School graduate Don Jeanes, who portrays a Clydesdale trainer. Last year’s "Brotherhood" ad won USA Today’s Ad Meter contest, had 6.3 million views on YouTube within 24 hours of the game and was shared 2.3 million times on social media, according to the analytics firm Unruly.
For "Puppy Love," Jeanes and the Clydesdales — 17 of which took part in the three-day commercial shoot — are joined by actress Melissa Keller and the litter of puppies, to the backdrop of the song ''Let Her Go’' by Passenger.
"We’ve got everything but the kitchen sink to make for a cute commercial," Jeanes said.
The ad debuted Wednesday morning on NBC’s ''Today’' show and as of Friday afternoon had more than 24.6 million views on YouTube, with the game still to come.
That degree of pre-game payoff for Anheuser-Busch InBev is the goal of every Super Bowl advertiser, most of which have turned to social media and other formats to bolster the cost/value ratio of Super Bowl ads at a time when the financial stakes - and the competition for attention in a crowded marketplace — are too high to leave anything to chance.
"I continue to be amazed at the amount of pre-game publicity that the advertisers are using to get the word out," said Bob Horowitz, producer of the annual "Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials" show. "It gets bigger every year."
As of Friday afternoon, Super Bowl ads and ad teasers had been viewed more than 105 million times on YouTube. Early release, according to the web company, allowed last year’s ads to more than triple their television exposure via online viewership.
With "Puppy Love" in the forefront, this year’s spots hew to the traditional trinity of Super Bowl ads — animals, humor and celebrities. Sunday’s menagerie will include a llama for Bud Light, a bear for Chobani yogurt and an amorous bull for Chevrolet.
On the celebrity front, Arnold Schwarzenegger received $3 million to appear in a Bud Light ad; others on tap Sunday include comedian Stephen Colbert (for Wonder Pistachios), David Beckham (for H&M clothing stores) and Ellen DeGeneres (for Beats Music headphones).
The largest contingent of celebrities will appear in automobile ads, which Horowitz says will be one of the most intriguing product categories Sunday. Participants include Lawrence Fishburne for Kia, Johnny Galecki for Hyundai and Ben Kingsley for Jaguar.
His early favorite, however, is Volkswagen’s celebrity-free "Wings," a parody of the film "It’s a Wonderful Life" based on the premise that every time a VW crosses 100,000 miles, a German engineer sprouts angel’s wings, sometimes at the most inconvenient moments.
"The car category generally has kind of bored me, but I think 'Wings’ is a big-time contender,'' Horowitz said. "I think it may be even better than their Darth Vader spot (in which a father bluffs his "Star Wars"-loving son into thinking he can start the family car by magic). It proves that Volkswagen isn’t a one-trick (advertising) pony."
Sunday’s ads also present something of a retreat from the more aggressively forward ads of past years, such as GoDaddy.com’s extended kissing spot featuring model Bar Refaeli and actor Jesse Heiman or Axe body wash’s lifeguard-rescues-bikinied-damsel-in-distress spot.
GoDaddy.com this year will feature a woman quitting her job to start a new online business, and Axe’s ''Make Love, Not War’' ad emphasizes romance in place of scantily clad models.
There will be at least one scantily clad model, though — former soccer star David Beckham,; online viewers were offered a chance to vote on spots featuring Beckham in his skivvies or a discreetly framed nude shot.
Even the Beckham add, however, will have a twist of technology: A pop-up window appearing during the ad will give owners of smart TVs a link to order Beckham’s Bodywear clothing line online.
Such advances, if successful, could help resolve the creeping suspicion among some observers that the impact of Super Bowl advertising is overblown. The advertising research firm Communicus said interviews conducted by the company indicated that only one in five Super Bowl ads has a significant impact on brand awareness and sales.
Communicus noted, however, that Anheuser-Busch is one of the primary beneficiaries of Super Bowl-related product buzz. That’s good news for Jeanes, who is happy to be in another Clydesdale spot and is quietly lobbying for a return trip next year, perhaps to set up a romantic reunion between his horse trainer and Keller’s dog breeder.
"I was talking with one of the actual Clydesdale trainers, and we decided to spread the rumor that our (his and Keller’s) characters should be married and that there should be another commercial," he said.
He even broached the topic to a representative of Anomaly, the ad agency that created "Brotherhood" and "Puppy Love."
"He laughed and said, 'Let’s see how this one goes,'" Jeanes said.
The exposure has been beneficial to Jeanes’ career; he has completed roles in two films and appeared in several commercials in the past year, including spots for Baccardi and Kia. But as one whose family has owned ranches for years in Liberty and Polk counties, Jeanes enjoys the trainer character on its own merits.
"I get to work with a swimsuit model and puppies and horses. Those guys are doing me a favor,'' he said. ''I genuine feel so blessed and so lucky to be in this position."