Forget the game -- fun Super Bowl ads are back

NEW YORK -- Game on! Super Bowl ads are returning to their goofy roots. Men march across a hillside without pants, toys joyride in Vegas and the miserly Mr. Burns from The Simpsons loses his fortune but finds happiness. It's a sign that people are feeling better -- or at least want to feel better -- about the economy, experts say.

The commercials Sunday on advertising's most expensive showcase also aim to appeal to people's focus on value.

The ad line-up includes everything from economy-priced televisions by Vizio to budget cars from Kia.

Super Bowl ads are a much anticipated, and usually funny, sideshow. The broadcast is watched as much for its commercials as it is for the game itself. (This year's extravaganza on CBS pits quarterback Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints against Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts.)

Last year's line-up had several uncharateristically somber ads. The more staid tone reflected the nation's mood, still in shock and worry over how deep the financial crisis would get.

To be sure, the commercials aren't all fun and games, but overall, the laughs are back.

"Six months ago if you were optimistic or happy, it was awkward and people looked and said, 'How insensitive can you be?' " said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates in New York. "Now it's socially acceptable not to be sullen and depressed, but within reason. And I think the Super Bowl provides one of those venues where you can still kick back and have a good time."

Advertisers are still willing to pay top dollar for the exposure. The 30-second spots sold for a minumum of $2.5 million. Last year's game brought in $213 million, according to Kantar Media. CBS has not been claiming record prices, although it has said average prices are better than last year.

Marketers also are trying to more directly link products to the content of the ads this year, said Laura Ries, president of marketing consulting firm Ries & Ries outside Atlanta.

"It used to be Super Bowl ads were nothing about what the product was or what it did or if it had any usefulness, and today we are seeing more 'sell' in the ads," she said.

But the return of silliness may be a preview of advertising's tone the rest of the year, Adamson said.