Super Bowl ads almost as popular as game
The Galveston County Daily News
By Daniel Huron
A lock taking a bullet and surviving. Larry Bird and Michael Jordan playing a superhuman game of horse. A herd of Clydesdales playing a fierce game of football.
To the millions of people who have watched the Super Bowl through the years, these words may conjure familiar images.
The commercials that air during the National Football League’s championship game are, to some people, just as popular as the game itself. Some take on a life of their own.
Carl Boudoin of Texas City isn’t even a football fan, but he watches the big game for the commercials.
‘I sit there and watch the whole game, but if it wasn’t for the ads, I’d probably flip back and forth,’ he said. ‘I hate to change channels because you could miss one of the commercials.’
Greg Clausen, the executive director of the Cramer-Kasselt ad agency in Chicago, says the Super Bowl is ‘really the last remaining mass media event and probably the only TV event were people look forward to the ads.’
On a dusty plain, under a blistering sun, a group of cowboys herds a pack of cats towards an unknown destination.
When Stuart Larson, an assistant professor of graphics design at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, thinks of Super Bowl advertisements, this commercial for Electronic Data Systems that aired during the 2000 game immediately comes to mind. He finds the wittiness and creativity of the spot appealing.
The Budweiser commercials ‘ which often contain edgy, if not borderline offensive humor ‘ are also among viewers’ favorites.
Boudoin remembers the ‘Bud-weis-er’ frogs and loves commercials that feature animals and cartoons. Ads that feature celebrities are fine, he said, but usually not the best ones.
This is no surprise to Rama Yelkur, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin.
‘Humor and animals make a winning combination,’ she said. ‘People want to laugh when they’re seeing the Super Bowl. It’s a party atmosphere. They don’t want to see a serious commercial.’
Yelkur and her colleague, Chuck Tomkovick, have published two major studies on Super Bowl advertising.
Analyzing more than 450 Super Bowl commercials aired between 1990 and 1999, the researchers discovered that, besides humor and animals, other factors influence ad likability scores.
Their findings indicate the length of the ad (30 to 60 seconds is the ideal length), the type of products advertised (food, beverages and entertainment work best) and the presence of celebrities are instrumental in the success of a Super Bowl commercial.
Although Chris John Mallios of League City doesn’t eat at the fast food restaurant, the McDonald’s showdown between Michael Jordan and Larry Bird during the 1993 Super Bowl is one ad that’s hard for him to forget.
A little sentimentality never hurts, though.
One of Mallios’ favorite ads was the 1979 spot with Pittsburgh Steelers legend ‘Mean’ Joe Green and a generous boy who gave him his Coke.
The ad actually made its debut a few months earlier but, like Mallios, many people still remember this classic as a Super Bowl ad.
‘(Green) had a reputation for being mean,’ Mallios said. ‘Here was this larger than life character that nobody would approach and here was this kid.’
Clausen, of the Cramer-Kasselt ad agency, which produced three commercials for CareerBuilder.com for this year’s Super Bowl, said one of the commercials that has stuck in his mind throughout the years is the famous Master Lock spot.
In that ad, one of the company’s products is shot with a rifle and stays latched together.
He said he admired the advertisement for many years, even before he started working at the Chicago-based Cramer-Kasselt, the firm that created it.
The Master Lock ad ‘ which aired on 21 Super Sundays beginning in 1974 ‘ was a dramatic demonstration of a product’s durability.
Its strength, Clausen said, derived from the advertiser’s ability to present a clear message.
All the rules of advertising apply when creating an ad for the Super Bowl, Clausen said. The customers and viewers, however, expect more.
It is widely believed in the advertising industry that one commercial is responsible for raising the creative bar during the Super Bowl.
The commercial, called ‘1984,’ was an Orwellian vision of a bleak future that was aired during the 1984 Super Bowl and not shown again.
The ad introduced Apple Computer’s Macintosh computer to the world, cost $1 million to produce and was directed by Ridley Scott, who has also directed such movies as ‘Aliens’ and ‘Gladiator.’
‘Apple took a whole year’s budget on that one spot, on one show, and no one had ever done that before,’ said Louis Sawyer, a partner in the Sawyer Riley Compton ad firm. ‘That made it newsworthy.’
‘All advertising needs to have some entertainment value,’ Sawyer said. ‘What people are looking for is a talk factor. The ads that break through have some newsworthy, entertainment aspect to them.’
Marc Havican of Space City Films in the Clear Lake area describes ‘1984’ as ‘a watershed event in the way advertisers looked at the Super Bowl.’
The success of ‘1984’ showed the industry the reach advertising during the Super Bowl could have.
It’s not by chance that the following year the cost of 60 seconds of advertising time went past the $1 million mark.
This year, Fox is reportedly charging a record $2.4 million for 30 seconds of ad time.
Getting It Right
Some advertisers get so bogged down in being creative and clever that they forget to get a message across to the viewers, industry insiders say.
Clausen remembers a commercial that aired a few years ago that involved a gerbil being shot out of a cannon. He still doesn’t know what it was promoting.
Allan Steinmetz, CEO of Inward Strategic Consulting in Newton, Mass., stresses clients and their agencies need to find a balance between relevance and resonance.
‘All too often, the ad agencies and their clients get caught up in the hoopla of making an impact alone and overproduce a spot to the point where the production value of the spot is more important than the message,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, too much emphasis on the message, without the benefit of a creative idea, is also a big mistake.’
In The Year 2005
Following last year’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, many advertisers are expected to shy away from risqu’e ads.
The Cialis commercial promoting the erectile dysfunction drug could raise some objections because of its subject matter. But otherwise, advertisers are not expected to cross the line of good taste.
This year’s commercials will feature a lot of familiar faces. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and other Muppets will promote Pizza Hut in one spot, while the Pillsbury Doughboy, Count Chocula and Mr. Clean endorse MasterCard in another.
A commercial featuring a priest who covets a Lincoln Mark LT truck was pulled earlier this week after a group supporting the victims of sex abuse by priests complained the advertisement was inappropriate.
The popularity of the commercials is such that online polls and online betting will draw viewers from their TV sets to their computer screens.
America Online and USA Today will offer Super Bowl enthusiasts a chance to vote for their favorite commercials.
Bud’s ‘Donkey’ spot won first place last year among 3.5 million people who cast their votes on the AOL site.
BETonSports.com, an online and telephone sports book and casino operator, also scored a touchdown with consumers. The site received more than 450,000 wagers in 2004.
The company estimates this number will increase more than 15 percent in 2005, with about 75 percent of those who bet on the outcome of the Super Bowl game also betting on ‘special propositions.’ Such propositions include picking the highest rated Super Bowl TV commercials.
When the post-game show ends, the bowls of chips are empty and the trashcans are left overflowing with beer cans, the excitement generated by the Super Bowl will, as it does every year, carry over to the next day.
Bob Senter, a football fan from Texas City, said he always looks forward to the discussion after the Super Bowl.
‘The creativity that comes out is what makes the ads great,’ he said. ‘The fact that on Monday morning there’s people talking about which ads they like the best is something unique to the Super Bowl.’
Lifestyle Editor Carolina Amengual, reporter Nathan Smith and the Associated Press contributed to this article.