The Super Bowl party -- is there a more quintessentially American event? Possibly. But there is certainly no other celebration where we, as a nation, congregate to do the unthinkable -- watch television commercials. I grant you, there's also that AFC vs. NFC showdown, but the title game is typically decided before the third quarter starts, and it almost never features anything worth talking about the next week -- excluding, of course, the halftime show. The more memorable commercials, though (and I think we all have our favorites), can be etched into pop culture lore for years.

Familiar faces such as Pepsico (NYSE:PEP) and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) will be making another appearance at the annual advertising extravaganza. There is also talk of an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) promotion involving an iPod giveaway. Once again, though, Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD) will be supplying most of the humor (and most of the liquid refreshments) for this year's event. According to a recent survey of online consumers, about half of those polled expect the beer giant to roll out the best commercials, and the company will have ample opportunity to do so -- with 10 of the 30-second spots slated to run.

After taking some heat for last year's flatulent horse commercial, which drew complaints from those who considered it offensive, expect this year's entries to be somewhat toned down. In fact, one of the racier spots -- a backstage prequel to Janet Jackson's famous "wardrobe malfunction" -- has been circling through cyberspace but will be shelved when game day arrives. Still, the advertising agency that came up with the idea, DDB Worldwide, will have other opportunities to showcase its creative talent, as will Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Both are units of Omnicom (NYSE:OMC), the world's largest advertising conglomerate.

Some question whether 30 seconds of national exposure is worth the $2.4 million price tag (up from last year's $2.3 million), particularly for companies that are already well-known. For Anheuser-Busch, though, which has been the game's exclusive beer advertiser for the past 17 years, the Super Bowl is the ideal venue to reach its core target audience. More than 100 million people are expected to tune in to News Corp's (NYSE:NWS) Fox broadcast -- many in the coveted male, 25-45 demographic -- and each will be introduced to the new Budweiser Select, which is expected to launch nationally later this month.

For smaller companies, the risk is greater, but so is the potential payoff. Despite the failures of previous dot-com Super Bowl advertisers, the tiny Internet domain name registrar found the attraction of instant nationwide publicity to be irresistible and will attempt to shed its unknown status by rolling the dice on one 30-second gamble. Some see the move as a shrewd decision; others view it simply as the marketing equivalent of a Hail Mary.

According to a survey conducted by Eisner Communications, 10% of last year's viewers tuned in exclusively for the commercials. It's a safe bet that the other 90% will watch with at least passing interest. With millions of dollars at stake, a global audience watching, and Internet chat rooms sure to be buzzing with instant feedback -- this is not the time to experience an "advertising malfunction."

Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter is predicting that New England will cruise to a 24-10 victory. He owns none of the companies mentioned.