The National Football League's Super Bowl is the most widely watched sports event in the United States and has long commanded the highest advertising rates of any televised program.
Following each Super Bowl, talk of the big game usually focuses on one of three areas, the game itself, the musical entertainment and the commercials. Otherwise a convenient time for viewers to take a short break from the television, ads attract attention during the Super Bowl.
It is a time when many companies try to take advantage of the huge audience, 144 million people last year, about half of the U.S. population. And they do it by airing new commercials that are often funny and artistically creative, such as a computer ad last year featuring Boxing legend Muhammad Ali: "I shook up the world - Shake things up, shake up the world, " he said in the ad.
A credit card commercial featuring the Homer Simpson cartoon character: "Routine oil change, $20 - ah, bees! Haircut, $75 - 75 bucks!"
A beer commercial with a donkey who wanted to be a horse: "All my life I practiced the Clydesdale walk, and the Clydesdale pull. I even tried hair extentions on my lower legs."
And country singer Willie Nelson in a comical ad for a tax preparation company.
The Fox television network is broadcasting this year's Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, and commanding a record $2.4 million for 30 seconds of advertising time, up six percent from last year. By comparison, typical prime time advertising costs $400,000. Fox expects to earn $140 million from the Super Bowl broadcast.
There is much debate among economists as to the cost effectiveness of Super Bowl advertising. Some say reaching the huge one-time audience is worth the tremendous expense, while others feel more impact can be made at other times during the year.
One debate that will not exist this year is whether the ads have crossed the line of social acceptability. The so-called "wardrobe malfunction" during singer Janet Jackson's halftime performance last year and the government crackdown on raunchy entertainment that followed has advertisers cautious. The FOX network declined to accept a commercial that showed the exposed buttocks of legendary actor Mickey Rooney. The flatulent Budweiser horse is not returning this year and former NFL coach Mike Ditka will not make his pitch for impotency drugs.
The advertisers willing to pay top dollar are both newcomers and old-timers. Perennials like the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, automaker Ford Motor, and soft drink giant Pepsi-Cola are back. Others like Internet job search company Monster Worldwide are taking a break. For football fans who do happen to miss a Super Bowl commercial on Sunday, all of the ads will be played again after the game on cable television's NFL Network.