NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
With a little help from a friend, Super Bowl advertisers reclaimed the water cooler Sunday night.
Beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch won two leading viewer polls for the most popular ads of Super Bowl XXXIX.
According to USA Today's annual Super Bowl "Ad Meter," the Budweiser brewer won the top slot for a record seventh consecutive year, with its first-quarter commercial for Bud Light featuring a skydiver who tries to entice a skittish buddy to jump by tossing out a six-pack of Bud Light. The buddy still doesn't jump, but the parachute-less pilot does.
The King of Beer also took the No. 1 spot in an America Online poll of nearly 50,000 voters, this time for a solemn tribute to U.S. soldiers. The skydiving spoof took second place and a third Bud Light commercial ranked in the top 10.
AOL and CNN/Money are owned by Time Warner.
In this year's USA Today ranking, three Anheuser-Busch commercials ranked among the 10 most popular Super Bowl ads. With five minutes of airtime, Anheuser-Busch was the game's biggest advertiser and the odds-on favorite for top-ranked spot, according to online betting site www.BetWWTS.com, leading into the championship game of advertising,.
Other USA Today winners included CareerBuilder.com, whose three ads about chimps-as-office workers also ranked among the top 10. Ameriquest Mortgage, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser and sponsor of the halftime show, had two Top 10 ads in both the USA Today and AOL polls.
No 'wardrobe malfunction'
In Sunday's big game, as the New England Patriots rolled to a 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, advertisers cleaned up their acts -- and so did the live entertainment.
Few can forget last year's game, when Janet Jackson and her bare breast captured all the day-after buzz that advertisers pay so dearly for. Given last year's commercials' unsavory focus on bodily functions, the songstress may have done them a favor.
This time, former Beatle Paul McCartney performed four songs, fully clothed. And advertisers did a better job of showing viewers they can be funny without being crass.
But not that much better.
Shari Anne Brill, programming director with media buying firm Carat USA, wasn't impressed with this year's lineup and faulted last year's fiasco.
"It just seemed to me like everybody was afraid to do something fun so they chose to be boring," said Brill.
Cal McAllister, an ad executive with Seattle agency Wexley School for Girls, thinks the big winners were the ads that didn't air during the game because they were deemed too controversial.
At least four advertisers -- Ford Motor, Anheuser-Busch, Airborne, and GoDaddy.com -- pulled or were forced to pull ads deemed offensive. Some of the yanked ads were posted on the Internet. All received plenty of priceless media attention.
"The best stuff was everything that never made it onto the Super Bowl, the ads that captured a whole lot of attention but without the advertiser paying all that money," said McAllister.
That's not what this year's advertisers -- who paid as much as $80,000 a second to reach an estimated 90 million viewers -- want to hear.
The Super Bowl, after all, is the one television event where digital video recorders are used to tape ads, not zap them.
Still, a few ads were hits Sunday night. Surprises included mortgage lender Ameriquest and online job search site CareerBuilder.com -- both considered a long shot to win post-game viewer polls.
Ameriquest scored with two smart spots, including one featuring a man who is mistaken for a robber by the owners of a snack shop. In three separate commercials, CareerBuilder.com played on the theme of a poor male office worker whose colleagues are butt-kissing, practical joke-playing chimpanzees.
"There were a lot of home runs," Bernice Kanner, a marketing expert and author of a book on Super Bowl advertising, said Sunday night.
But there were also some major league fumbles. Longtime Super Bowl advertisers Taco Bell, Cadillac and Olympus aired sleeper spots. Not even a $1 million production budget and four of the biggest names in sports -- including Mike Ditka and Dennis Rodman -- were enough to help silestone countertop maker Cosentino USA become a household name.
Another anomaly: a McDonald's parody of Virgin Mary sightings. In this spot, a couple holds an online auction for a french fry that looks like Abraham Lincoln.
But Kanner thinks the night's big loser was Napster, the online music store whose ad came after the sentimental Budweiser tribute to U.S. soldiers.
"By the luck of the draw -- or the lack of luck -- Napster lost because of the ad placement. People's mouths were still open from the (Budweiser tribute to) soldiers," she said.
Indeed, Napster's ad ranked last in the USA Today Ad Meter list.