The Super Bowl ranks as the single most expensive day for advertisers, and this year's game is fetching as much as $5 million for each 30-second block of ad time.
That's often just the starting point for an advertiser, given the additional money companies spend on creating flashy and memorable ads that will charm or delight the roughly 100 million people who tune in each year to watch the game. Many viewers are even more interested in the Super Bowl ads than the game itself, making it one of the few venues where consumers actually look forward to the ads.
Given the pressure to succeed with a great Super Bowl spot, every broadcast has a few clunkers, and many of them have one thing in common: sex. Super Bowl commercials that incorporate a sexy theme -- such as Carl's Jr.'s racy "All-Natural" spot for last year's game -- tend to score 9 percent lower with consumers than those without lascivious tones, according to advertising research firm Ace Metrix.
"People are more sensitive to the fact there are multiple family members and multiple ages watching at that time," said Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix. "While they might be OK with certain ads in certain situations, it's not OK here."
This year's contest, between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, will be played on Feb. 7 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and will be aired on CBS (parent company of CBS MoneyWatch).
None of the 10 most-liked Super Bowl ads from 2011 through 2015 use sex as an advertising technique. But the research indicates a clear winner: Puppies are advertising gold. Four of the top 10 ads include puppies and dogs, while two others rely on other fuzzy creatures -- horses and polar bears -- to sell to the Super Bowl crowd.
"We've always said it's better to use a puppy than a celebrity," Daboll said. "Dogs seem to rule."
The top-scoring ad of the past five years, in fact, might be one that many consumers still remember: Budweiser's heart-rending "Puppy Love" spot, which featured the brand's classic Clydesdale horses and an adorable Labrador puppy. The message was that true friends will watch out for each other -- which also explains its success, Daboll noted.
Inspiring and uplifting themes perform well with Super Bowl viewers, Daboll added. Many of these types of ads don't include direct plugs for their products, opting instead to create an emotional link with people tuning in. That might not prompt viewers to run out to buy a six-pack of Budweiser the next day, but the ads tend to be more memorable with consumers, helping to build long-term brand awareness.
"Emotional ads really drive ad performance," Daboll said. "When you feel something, you tend to remember it, and it cuts through the clutter of the ads that are out there."
Other top ads that hit the heartstrings include Budweiser's "Brotherhood" ad, which focused on the relationship between a Clydesdale and his trainer, and Microsoft's "Empowering," a look at how technology can improve people's lives.
Aside from emotionally uplifting commercials, spots that use humor can be big winners, although some attempts at funny can backfire. Overall, humorous ads score 6 points higher than those without humor, Ace Metrix found.
"Ads that some people think are funny might not appeal to everybody else," Daboll said. One example was last year's Squarespace ad featuring Jeff Bridges meditating in a couple's bedroom, which some viewers loved but others complained was weird and confusing.
"Every year you see a few duds, and it takes years to recovery from that," Daboll said. "The whole brand perception is tied into this."
Below are the top 10 Super Bowl ads for the past five years, ranked by Ace Metrix.
1. Budweiser, "Puppy Love," 2014
2. Budweiser, "Brotherhood," 2013
3. Budweiser, "Lost Dog," 2015
4. Doritos, "Slingbaby," 2012
5. Coca-Cola, "The Catch," 2012
6. Budweiser, "Hero's Welcome," 2014
7. Microsoft, "Empowering," 2014
8. Bud Light, "Rescue Dog," 2012
9. Doritos, "Pug Attack," 2011
10. M&Ms, "Just My Shell," 2012
You can watch Super Bowl 50 live on CBS.