After several months of mounting accusations over the treatment of its members, the Church of Scientology on Sunday tried to spread a softer, gentler message using the biggest advertising event in the country: the Super Bowl.

For the first time, the church bought commercial time in local markets during the Super Bowl in order to feature an ad that called on “the curious, the inquisitive, the seekers of knowledge.” The ad, which ran in cities including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas, was in stark contrast to the more traditional Super Bowl fare from brands like Budweiser, Mercedes-Benz and Coca-Cola.

“Some will doubt you,” said the narrator in the ad over soft-focus images of mostly young, ethnically diverse strivers. “Let them. Dare to think for yourself, to look for yourself, to make up your own mind.”

Robert Passikoff, the president of Brand Keys in New York, a brand and customer-loyalty consulting company, said he was surprised to see the ad during the game. “Clearly the organization was looking for as broad an audience as it could,” he said.

Called “Knowledge,” the ad was produced by Golden Era Productions, the Church of Scientology International’s own studio, which creates training films and other video content for the church, Karin Pouw, a spokeswoman for the organization said in an e-mail.

The ad itself was not new; a longer version ran on the organization’s Web site in November. Ms. Pouw said the ad “would appear on prominent Web sites and air during prime time TV programs over the next several months,” and was shown 16 times an hour on a digital billboard in Times Square in December.

“We are thrilled with the response to this advertisement and that so many millions of people were able to see our message,” Ms. Pouw said.

The campaign came after several well-publicized attacks on the church’s credibility. In October, Vanity Fair published an article detailing the actress Katie Holmes’s life in Scientology during her marriage to the church’s most visible member, Tom Cruise. In January, Lawrence Wright published his investigative book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief,” which takes direct aim at the church’s practices and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Ms. Pouw said the ads were not a direct response to Mr. Wright’s book.

“There has always been a demand for information about Scientology, and the ads are part of a longer term effort to meet that demand,” she said in the e-mail. “We have been running it online for some time and are expanding onto television.”

Jeff Sharlet, an assistant professor of English at Dartmouth College who has written about religion and the news media, said the ads were an attempt to position the church as nonconformist and appealing.

“It’s what marginal religions are doing more than evangelizing,” Mr. Sharlet said. “They are trying to say ‘You can trust us.’ ” Calling the ad “sort of mushy and vague,” he compared it to a sentimental commercial from the Chrysler Group extolling the virtues of farmers that also ran during the Super Bowl. Ad agency executives estimated the cost of this year’s Super Bowl commercials at $3.7 million to $3.8 million for 30 seconds.

Rohit Deshpande, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, said that the ad was trying to be inspirational while saying very little about the organization itself. “The motivation is maybe to get some positive association and to build some curiosity so people will follow up and learn more about what the organization is about,” he said.

Scientology has never shied away from promotions. Subway posters and sidewalk invitations to personality testing have long been familiar to those living in New York and other cities around the country. One of the church’s highly visible buildings in Hollywood is approached by a public street named for its founder.

In December, the church used the Universal Studios back lot for its annual antidrug footrace and pancake breakfast. About 3,000 athletes participated, it said.

The church has often been accused of being relentless in its treatment of critics, but its leaders seem to have taken a more measured approach recently. When the Weinstein Company last year released “The Master,” a film about the founding of a fictional cult that had clear parallels to Scientology, the church largely ignored it. The movie made little impression at the box office, despite critical acclaim and Oscar nominations for three of its actors.

But the church has recently released another ad, this one about Mr. Hubbard himself, which begins by calling him “the nation’s youngest Eagle Scout” and ends by calling him “the most published and translated author of all time” and the founder of Scientology. The ad will run in “major metropolitan markets across the country,” including New York, Ms. Pouw said.