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Wacky Super Bowl Ads Are Already Getting Serious Play

The television audience for the Super Bowl is projected to top 100 million. But if you've been surfing the Web this week, you've probably already seen some of Sunday's big plays — the ads.

The spots, which CBS News says cost about $3.8 million for 30 seconds of air time, have spread over social media like virtual fire.

Tim Nudd, a senior editor at Adweek, offered an explanation to NPR's Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition:

"The Super Bowl ads almost need spoiler alerts these days. So many brands are doing this now and it's really because of social media. So many people are talking about the Super Bowl earlier and earlier and these brands are ... terrified and they're going to be left out of that conversation, so they do away with the element of surprise and just jump right in."

Volkswagen has already jumped on the bandwagon. The automaker's "Get In. Get Happy" commercial, with over 3 million views on YouTube, has sparked some criticism. It features a white man speaking in a Jamaican accent while Jimmy Cliff's version of "C'mon Get Happy" plays in the background.

Journalist Christopher John Farley of Jamaican descent writes in The Wall Street Journal:

"... the Jamaican patois, coming out of the mouths of people who seem to be Americans, might remind people of Jar Jar Binks, an alien from the second 'Star Wars' trilogy who spoke 'broken' English for comic effect."

However, Jamaica's tourism minister Wykeham McNeill says the ad is a "tribute to the popularity of reggae music worldwide" in a statement posted on the Jamaica Observer.

Coca-Cola's ad is also not entirely popular with everyone either. Imam Ali Siddiqui, president of the Muslim Institute for Interfaith Studies, told Reuters:

"The Coke commercial for the Super Bowl is racist, portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world."

But Super Bowl ads can also be serious and direct. Remember Chrysler's 2012 "Halftime in America" commercial? It featured Clint Eastwood narrating the spot, touching on employment in Detroit and across the country as the economy struggled to recover. Those in the advertising world are looking to see what message Chrysler will deliver this year.

The impact of the ads can't be fully measured but hints of their success can be seen by analyzing social media or sales figures, Nudd says. (USA Today's Ad Meter tracks how well commercials do with viewers.)

In the end, the target is to amuse the audience, Adweek's Nudd tells Inskeep.

"In this game it's not about subtleties, and it's really not about communicating a serious message — it's really just about entertaining people."

Want to reminisce about previous Super Bowl ads that won you over? USA Today counts down the top 25 spots over the years.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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