NEW YORK (AP) - In the annual Big Game of advertising - the Super Bowl - marketing powerhouse Anheuser-Busch Cos. is the force to be reckoned with, and this year is no different.
The brewer will once again be the largest advertiser during the Feb. 4 matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears with a combined five minutes of ad time for its Budweiser and Bud Light brands.
In addition to its usual stable of Clydesdale horses, the company will also enlist help this year from racing star Dale Earnhardt Jr., some beer-thieving crabs and a scary hitchhiker.
The Super Bowl represents an enormous commitment for Budweiser. Bob Lachky, chief creative officer of Anheuser-Busch, said the St. Louis-based brewer has been advertising on the game since 1976 and has been the exclusive alcoholic beverage sponsor since 1989, an arrangement that runs through 2012.
"It's important to us because it kicks off our selling season, it's the best platform possible to launch new ideas or to sustain existing campaigns, and it's absolutely the most efficient way to reach the most adult consumers in one sitting," Lachky said Wednesday.
Despite the rise of cable, the Internet other media to compete with broadcast television, the Super Bowl remains the most-viewed media event all year, drawing in some 90 million viewers and enticing a huge array of marketers to pony up the big bucks for an ad, the price of which is running as high as $2.6 million for this year's broadcast on CBS Corp.'s CBS network, up slightly from about a top price of about $2.5 million last year.
Lachky said the overlap of the hitchhiker spot with the recent opening of the horror film "The Hitcher" was completely coincidental, saying that ad creators typically start looking at scripts - up to 80 in all - as early as August. But the buzz surrounding the movie certainly doesn't hurt.
In the spot, spooky music cues as a couple drives down a dark road. Fumbling with a map, a woman is alarmed when her boyfriend slows down to pick up a hitchhiker, pointing out that he is carrying an ax.
"But he has Bud Light," pleads the boyfriend.
"And an ax!" she insists.
In another new spot, racing champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears in a wild apocalyptic scene being chased by deranged characters straight out a "Mad Max" movie. Another features rapper Jay-Z and former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula facing off over a chess-like rendering of a high-tech football game using holographic images. Bud is still testing the spots and finalizing its plans for the game, Lachky said.
Comedian Carlos Mencia, of the Comedy Central show "Mind of Mencia," gets a big break with a spot set in a classroom. Lachky predicts that Mencia will get an enormous boost following the appearance, which similarly did wonders for Cedric the Entertainer.