General Motors scored with an Armageddon-proof Chevy truck while a Clint Eastwood pep talk for America won notice for rival Chrysler during the high-stakes brand battle at Sunday's Super Bowl.
Other commercials from firms such as Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola repeated old themes or failed to stand out during American TV's most valuable ad time, according to industry experts.
Companies that spent $3.5 million on average for a 30-second spot ran commercials featuring comedy, celebrity and skin as the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in front of a TV audience estimated to reach about 100 million.
One GM ad that showed a Chevy Silverado truck surviving a 2012 Mayan end-of-the-world scenario won praise from experts.
The spot "really stood out" among a heavy rotation of car commercials, said Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, which runs a review of Super Bowl ads.
In the ad, the truck's driver looks for his friend, "Dave," but learns Dave, who drives a Ford, didn't make it.
In a Chrysler Group LLC commercial, a Dirty Harry-like Clint Eastwood proclaimed it "Halftime in America," and chronicled Detroit's fall and rise to rally the rest of the country.
"It's tough to do a serious commercial in the Super Bowl," said Ewen Cameron, CEO for WPP ad agency Berlin Cameron United.
The Eastwood ad generated online buzz for its emotional appeal and comments that it looked like an Obama re-election commercial from Chrysler, recipient of a taxpayer funded-bailout.
NFL games, especially the Super Bowl, draw huge live audiences.