Corporate advertisers saving best plays for Super Bowl

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By JENNIFER MANN – The Kansas City Star

What is the Super Bowl really about? Is it about grit and guts on the gridiron, accented by the bad blood between Atlanta’s Dan Reeves and Denver’s Mike Shanahan and John Elway? Or is it about HAL, Halle, Louie and Lovitz, all pitching for one of 30 advertisers paying $53,333 a second to capture the hearts, imagination and cash of the estimated 130 million people watching the game? The answer is a coin toss.

Some of those 130 million people will tune in just to see whether the Denver Broncos can keep the Vince Lombardi Trophy out of the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. Some will turn on their TVs just to watch the ads. And some will snuggle into their easy chairs to witness both.

As has been the case for years, the Super Bowl is the place for advertisers to be seen and to showcase the best their advertising agencies have to offer. It gives advertisers a great melting-pot television audience. Young, old, black, white, rich, poor and more — every demographic group imaginable — will be watching. And like the wily network that it is, Super Bowl XXXIII broadcaster Fox is squeezing every last penny out of its investment by dragging out a seven-hour pregame show.

Last year’s Super Bowl broadcaster, NBC, started its pre-game show less than three hours before kickoff. After all, Fox paid $550 million a year for eight seasons to cover NFL games, and it needs to recoup its money. By dragging its Super Bowl coverage through breakfast, lunch and dinner, Fox expects to reap the largest single-day advertising reward in network history — Advertising Age puts the number in the $150 million range, compared with $93 million for NBC last year.

“The Super Bowl is more than a game,” said Fox pregame producer Scott Ackerson. “For the fans who are attending and people who are watching on TV, it’s a big party. “To the people who say it’s too long, my response to them is, the advertisers believe we have quality programming. I don’t feel that we have to apologize for anything. Nor will I. I’m pretty … proud of, knock on wood, what we’re going to accomplish during the Super Bowl.”

The game will finally begin at 5:18 p.m., and the kickoff will launch a parade of commercials that cost $1.6 million in 30-second chunks. Some Super Bowl ads are hard to forget — which isn’t always a good thing.

A sex-change-operation spot a couple of years ago for Holiday Inn had some of the hotel chain’s franchisees demanding that heads roll. But sometimes the spots entertain and get people to notice the advertiser’s product — and maybe, just maybe, to buy it. Whatever the case, the ads are sure to be a topic of discussion, debate and discourse in break rooms throughout America come Monday morning.

Apple Computer, widely credited with transforming the Super Bowl into the Ad Bowl in 1984, will be back this year for the first time since 1985. Its 1984 spot, titled “1984,” was breakthrough advertising that set the standard for all that has followed. According to some critics, no subsequent ads have risen to that standard. In that spot, a woman ran through a crowd of zombie like people while clutching a sledgehammer, which she used to smash the screen of a giant, mind-controlling television. It was simple, stirring and to the point. Apple’s 1985 spot was less memorable. However, this year’s ad sounds promising, playing off the Mac’s built-in year 2000 compatibility and using HAL, the ill-behaved computer from Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In a spot set in the future, HAL tells astronaut Dave that computers began misbehaving in 2000, creating global economic disruption, because they weren’t programmed to recognize the new age. Then HAL says, “You like your Macintosh better than me, don’t you, Dave?” Of course, the spot will be lost on thousands of people wondering who and what Dave and HAL are, but at least “2001”-compatible viewers will get it.

There will also be a series of ads for the new Crispy M&Ms candy. Crispy is a paranoid little critter of a candy lusted after by many, including the lovely Halle Berry.

Also playing on an amusing note is the celebrity book tour of Jon Lovitz, the acclaimed author of the Yellow Pages, or so he says.

And as always, sex is expected to sell. Victoria’s Secret will make its Super Bowl debut hoping to “make women smile and men take notice.” Of course, rather than smiling, more women will probably be taking notice of their husbands’ and boyfriends’ taking notice of the lingerie-clad Victoria’s Secret models. And Doritos will bring back the alluring model Ali Landry from last year’s effort to introduce its new Smoky Red BBQ chips. Landry sets off a sprinkler system as she sashays through a library eating the hot new chips.

Perennial big-spender Anheuser Busch is spending a reported $20 million to be the exclusive Super Bowl beer advertiser and is expected to run at least nine spots, including ones starring the obnoxious yet lovable Louie the lizard.

Remember last year when Louie tried to off the Budweiser frogs by electrocuting them in the swamp? No one is saying for sure, but the rumor is that Louie had better watch out. He could be in for quite a tongue-lashing from the frogs.

The Star’s Steve Rock contributed to this report To reach Jennifer Mann, call (816) 234-4453 or send e-mail [email protected]