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Will Taking the 'Funny' Out of Super Bowl Ads Drive Away Viewers?

Go Daddy

In the past, racy commericals like this one from GoDaddy.com sparked controversy. This year, advocacy ads have taken center stage.

The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints get most of the pre-game press, but recent studies show the 100 million-or-so sets of eyeballs watching Super Bowl XLIV will pay more attention to the commercials than the actual game.

"The last time I was at a Super Bowl party, people were running over to the buffet table during the game," said Bob Horowitz, executive producer of "The Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials," airing on CBS on Feb. 3. "But the minute the commercials came on, they were running to see the show."

And this year, with advocacy ads part of commercial mix for the first time, Horowitz is afraid sober talk on serious subjects may drive away viewers.

SLIDESHOW: Racy Ads Banned From Super Bowl's Past.

"Around 65 to 70 commercial spots will run in the game," Horowitz told FOX411.com. "If you get above about 20 percent of those being 'serious,' Tim Tebow-type ads, you will have less 'funny' in the course of the three and a half hours. And ratings will suffer."

Horowitz is referring to a pro-life ad created and financed by Focus on the Family, featuring Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother Pam. The ad features Tebow's mother recounting her decision to not have an abortion against doctors' recommendations when she became ill on an overseas mission.

SLIDESHOW: 15 Commercials That Made the Cut.

CBS's decision to run the commercial has become a political football itself, as the network  rejected an ad for a gay dating Web site called Mancrunch, as well a GoDaddy.com commercial featuring a football player who dresses in women's clothes.

"When you reject ads, people get vocal," said CBS spokesman Dana L. McClintock. "And when you accept ads, people get vocal."

In 2004, CBS turned down an add from the liberal group MoveOn.org. And Andy Brief, director of client services for New York City-based agency DeVito/Verdi, recalls how his client, the Pro Choice Education Project, had a their spot nixed by CBS in 2000.

RAW DATA: CBS's rejection letter for Pro Choice Education Project ad spot.

"It just feels as though that if [the Tebow ad] is the first spot that's being accepted, it feels like it's sending a message that CBS is taking a clear point of view on the issues, which they claim they never wanted to do in the past," said Brief.

CBS said it simply rethought its position. 

"We have for some time moderated our approach to advocacy submissions after it became apparent that our stance did not reflect public sentiment or industry norms on the issue," the network said in a statement. "Most media outlets have accepted advocacy ads for some time."

The controversy extends past CBS to the group paying for the Tebow spot. Financially, it's a gamble for Focus on the Family. "We're not Nike, we don't have multimillion dollar budgets," spokesperson Gary Schneeberger acknowledged.

Yet, in the midst of a recession, the organization was able to pony up a reported $2.8 million for the 30 second spot.

"It was a very small handful of very generous fans of the ministry," said Schneeberger. "The concept of the ad was brought to a handful of folks who are very generous and committed to Focus on the Family, and have the wherewithal to write large checks."

Focus on the Family have done just one other nationally televised ad, which appeared, without fanfare, on ABC's "Supernanny."

"But that doesn't clear the kinds of ratings the Super Bowl does,"  Schneeberger said.

"Greatest Commercials" producer Horowitz, however, isn't as concerned about the political message of any given commercial as he is about whether serious subjects will dampen Super Bowl ratings. 

In that instance, Horowitz warns: "We'd have to launch a campaign to save the Super Bowl ads!"

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