Super spots The big game draws big-time TV ads that cost millions

by Rose DeWolf

Daily News Staff Writer

Some people think the competition in the Super Bowl is between two football teams. But what do they know? The ball game will be part of it, sure. But for many viewers the real action is the competition between Super Bowl advertisers.

Last year, there was considerable debate over whether the best ad on the broadcast was the Tabasco commercial in which a mosquito blows up after biting a guy who’d put the hot stuff on his sandwich . . . or the Pepsi commercial in which a high-jumping skier shares a Pepsi with a migrating Canada goose . . . or Budweiser’s series of ads in which Louie the Lizard, jealous of the frogs hired to croak Bud-weis-er, hires a ferret to eliminate them permanently. (When the ferret fails, Louie snarls to his lizard buddy, Frank: “Never hire a ferret to do a weasel’s job.”) Super Bowl ads get so much attention (especially if the game is less than exciting, which has often been the case) that a little company called (it posts job openings on the Internet) has committed a whopping 43 percent of its annual revenue — $2 million — to buy a single 30-second spot in the third quarter of Sunday’s game.

That investment has already started paying off in garnering publicity for HotJobs, because there was considerable media coverage in December when the Fox Network, which has broadcast rights for this year’s game, rejected the company’s initial ad idea as “bad taste.” This is bound to make viewers curious to see the ad that finally makes it on the air. (The ad you won’t see showed an elephant squashing a guy who was sweeping its cage. A voice says: “Some people are stuck in the same old job but with you don’t have to be.”) The World Wrestling Federation will be advertising on the Super Bowl for the first time this year with a 30-second pitch in which wrestlers give “tours” of WWF headquarters to “dispel misperceptions” about the sport. (Stone Cold Steve Austin is actually warm and cuddly, perhaps?)

WWF vice president for marketing Jim Byrne says only that the so-called “bad boys of television” will seek to explain how unique their form of entertainment is. In other words, don’t expect anything serious.

Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser and a Super Bowl regular, bought a record amount of time this year: five minutes for nine ads. And for sure, two of those nine will continue the saga of Louie vs. the frogs. In one of these, the frogs get back at Louie by administering a tongue-lashing — both literally and figuratively. Frito-Lay, another regular, promises to be back with another ad for Doritos featuring Ali Landry, the sexy former Miss USA (1996) who attracted considerable attention last year. In that ad, set in a laundromat, Landry caught Doritos chips fired from a dryer into her mouth while doing acrobatic flips. This year’s ad, says a Frito-Layspokeswoman, “has a collegiate theme.”

There’s also an advertising tradition — dating back to Apple’s first ad for the Macintosh computer in 1984 — of companies introducing a new product during the Super Bowl. Philips Electronics of North America joined the ranks of Super Bowl advertisers for the first time this year to introduce a new $9,990, 64-inch,high-definition TV.

In the ad, a young woman is puzzled when her date, supposedly taking her to amovie, pulls up in front of a garage. The garage door opens to reveal this big TV showing the 1997 Mike Myers spoof “Austin Powers.” She loves it. Big stars are another SB tradition. One of Pepsi’s ads Sunday will feature the very hot Cuba Gooding Jr. American Express will run ads for its green card featuring Jerry Seinfeld. And Progressive Insurance ads for car insurance will feature E.T. (Remember him?)

All of these ads are super-costly. Fox says the average cost of 30 seconds during the Super Bowl is $1.6 million. That works out to $53,333 per second (about as long as it takes to say Philadelphia), is almost double what an ad cost in 1993 ($850,000) and sets a new Bowl record. (Last year, the average cost was $1.3 million.) Some ads cost more than others. Anheuser-Busch pays extra to ensure that nocompeting beer can buy an ad. (You might see an ad for Michelob, but that’s anAnheuser-Busch brand.) The all-time TV ad record was set last year by the final episode of “Seinfeld,” which brought in an average of $1.7 million per 30 seconds, even though it didn’t have as many viewers (though it was close) as last year’s Broncos-Packers Super Bowl matchup.

A future Super Bowl will probably beat that all-time record because Super Bowl ads have gone up in price every year since the first game was played in 1967. The Super Bowl can attract that kind of money because it also usually attracts the year’s biggest TV audience. Five of the 10 most-watched TV shows in the history of the tube have been Super Bowls, according to Nielsen Media Research. Fully one-quarter of the 100 most-watched shows in history were Super Bowls.

(Trivia note: The most-watched show of all time was the final “M*A*S*H” episode CBS aired Feb. 23, 1983. Slightly more than 60 percent of all TV sets nationwide were tuned to it.) Because the Super Bowl audience is largely males between ages 18 and 49 –just the folks some advertisers want to reach — the National Football League charges plenty for TV rights. Fox has agreed to pay the NFL $550 million a year for eight seasons to broadcast the Super Bowl plus other games. Fox is bragging that the ads that are seen during the game itself will be only apiece of its profits Sunday. The network seeks to turn the game into an all-dayevent, with a seven-hour long pregame extravaganza to start at 11 a.m. Sponsorsof the pregame show include Blockbuster Entertainment and Pizza Hut. There’s also a postgame show, for which General Motors’ Pontiac Division will be the major sponsor. Pre- and post- cost less because they attract fewer viewers thanthe game itself.

There have been predictions by ad agencies that this year’s game won’t attract as many viewers as last year’s game because many assume the Atlanta Falcons won’t be a tough enough challenge for the defending champion Denver Broncos. But, if the past is any indication, even if the Super Bowl game isn’t super, the audience will be.