Updated Monday, February 4, 2013 at 08:30 AM
NEW YORK — Super Bowl ads this year morphed into mini soap operas.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson shrugged off aliens so he could get more milk for his kids in a Super Bowl spot for the Milk Processor Education Program. Anheuser-Busch's commercial told the story of a baby Clydesdale growing up and returning to his owner for a heartfelt hug years later. And a Jeep ad portrayed the trials and triumphs of families waiting for the return of family members.
The reason for all the drama off the field? With 30-second spots going for as much as $4 million and more than 111 million viewers expected to tune in, marketers are constantly looking for ways to make their ads stand out. And it's increasingly difficult to captivate viewers with short-form plots involving babies, celebrities, sex and humor — unless there's a compelling story attached.
Chrysler led the trend again with its two-minute salute to troops and their families. The ad featured Oprah Winfrey reading a letter from the Jeep brand to encourage families to stay hopeful.
Anheuser-Busch also pulled at heartstrings with a spot about a baby Clydesdale growing up and moving away from his farm and his trainer. Years later, the horse remembered the trainer after returning for a parade. He raced down a street to hug him.
Lincoln's 90-second ad was inspired by tweets by fans about road trips. The ad, which was based on more than 6,000 tweets, showed adventures during a fictional road trip. A woman picks up a German hitchhiker and they go to an alpaca farm, get stopped by turtles crossing the road and drive through a movie set.
Coca-Cola created an ad based on an online campaign that pitted three groups — a troupe of showgirls, biker-style badlanders and cowboys — against each other in a race through a desert for a Coke.
Starting Jan. 23 and continuing through the end of the Super Bowl, viewers voted online for their favorite group. The group with the most votes — the showgirls — were revealed when the Super Bowl ended.
Not all of the storytelling ads were dramatic, though.
Samsung's two-minute ad showed Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd getting called in to do a "Next Big Thing" ad for Samsung. But they're agitated once they realize that they're sharing the spotlight.
Mercedes-Benz's 90-second ad had a Faustian plot.
A devilish Willem Dafoe shows a man everything that comes with a Mercedes-Benz CLX: A date with supermodel Kate Upton, dancing with Usher, driving around with beautiful girls, getting on the cover of magazines like GQ and getting to drive on a racetrack.
The man almost signs his soul away for the car. But then he sees a billboard that says the car starts at $29,900, and doesn't sign.
ANHEUSER-BUSCH / MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
Clydesdale horses were again a prominent part of Anheuser-Busch commercials.