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Super Bowl ads return to comedy

NEW YORK - There's one place where you can find both FedEx, the overnight package delivery service, and ''Fed-Ex,'' or Kevin Federline, the future ex-husband of pop diva Britney Spears. Both will be making appearances in Super Bowl ads, the highest-profile advertising event of the year.

FedEx Corp. is keeping mum about what its ad will look like, keeping up a tradition of ultra-secrecy that many marketers follow in hopes of building up the maximum amount of surprise during the game, which airs Feb. 4 on CBS Corp.'s CBS network. Advertisers want to get the most out of the huge cost of an ad in the big game, which is running as high as $2.6 million this year, up slightly from $2.5 million last year.

Federline will be poking fun at himself in a humorous spot for the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. under its ''Life Comes at You Fast'' campaign. Those spots, which have previously featured the supermodel Fabio and MC Hammer, will show Federline winding up working in a fast-food restaurant.

Humor and attempts to drive viewers to the Web, two themes from past years, are back again with some variations, and this year's Super Bowl commercials add a new twist - viewer participation.

One of the biggest new themes of this year's game is getting amateurs into the act. General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division ran a contest for college students to propose an ad that would be made by a team of professionals, and PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito-Lay unit will run an ad made entirely by an amateur contestant.

Meanwhile, Bayer Corp.'s Alka-Seltzer has a spot in the pre-game broadcast featuring the winner of a contest to come up with an updated version of its ''plop-plop, fizz-fizz'' jingle. The winner was Josh Anderson, a DJ at a radio station in Greensboro, N.C. The NFL also made an ad from an idea generated by a fan contest.

Many of the other spots made available for preview ahead of the big game show a decided shift to lighthearted, sometimes campy humor. That's in contrast with a number of ads last year that highlighted oddball violence, such as a female player in a touch football game getting clobbered with an illegal tackle.

Several marketers are trying even harder to use their ads to drive traffic to Web sites associated with their brands, such as Chevrolet's college-student contest and Nationwide, which posted outtakes from its Federline ad on its Web site.

Jo Ann Ross, the head of ad sales at CBS, said the spots have been selling well and that several advertisers have inquired about making a tie-in with Black History Month in February given that the coaches of both teams, for the first time, are black. ''That is a very, very positive story,'' Ross said.

Ross said demand has been brisk for the ads, and the network was seeing strong interest following a highly rated AFC championship game and the recent announcement of nominations for the Academy Awards. ''We're wrapping it up,'' she said.

It's been a busy few weeks for Ross and her staff, including a personal trip to Omaha, Neb., to seal a deal with infoUSA Inc., a marketing database company that is one of the first-time advertisers in this year's game.

Vin Gupta, the founder and CEO of infoUSA, said the Super Bowl represented a key chance to reach the 20 million salespeople and 10 million small-business owners his company markets its services to. An excerpt of the ad provided by the company shows a successful salesman emerging from a snazzy new red sports car.

''If you're trying to reach 30 million potential clients, the Super Bowl is the best way to reach them,'' Gupta said. ''Plus, it gives you instant credibility.''

Garmin International Inc., another first-timer, is planning a campy spot inspired by 1960s Japanese monster movies with a showdown between an evil ''Maposaurus'' and a hero who uses a Garmin-made electronic navigation device to save the day. This being the Internet age, there is, naturally, an accompanying blog: http://garmin.blogs.com.

Among returning advertisers, Diamond Foods Inc.'s Emerald Nuts brand came up with new ads after innovative spots last year that turned the company's name into an acrostic-like word puzzle.

Emerald is hoping to generate even more interest in its ad, which features actor Robert Goulet, by posting video clips on the video-sharing site YouTube. They feature humorous ''victim testimonials'' from people who didn't have Emerald Nuts handy at that key time late in the day when many people run low on energy.

Other big advertisers are also returning, including Anheuser-Busch Cos.' Budweiser and Bud Light brands, which are once again the game's biggest advertisers. Featured spots will include comedian Carlos Mencia and rapper Jay-Z. YUM Brands Inc.'s Pizza Hut is coming back with another spot featuring singer Jessica Simpson, and Mars Inc. will have a spot for its Snickers bar set in an auto garage.

Coca-Cola Co. is back in the game with three spots, having had a spot in the pre-game last year for an energy drink. Two of the spots have already aired, and the company is keeping the third one secret, a spokeswoman said.

Job-search business CareerBuilder, meanwhile, has ditched its office monkey theme in favor of a gladiatorial contest among office workers who find themselves in a jungle setting fighting for a promotion in front of a jury box of boss figures. CareerBuilder is jointly owned by newspaper publishers Gannett Co., McClatchy Co. and Tribune Co.