Ads Designed to Bowl You Over


NEW YORK — The Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams won’t be the only fresh names trying to score some points in this Sunday’s Super Bowl.

About a dozen Internet companies are forking over the highest prices ever paid for TV commercials so they can join regulars like Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi-Cola and FedEx on the NFL championship game broadcast.

There were only two dot-coms in last year’s game — three if you count lingerie marketer Victoria’s Secret which advertised its fashion show Webcast.

“Some companies are out there on hope and a prayer, but it’s part of the new economy,” said Jeffrey Taylor, chief executive of online job site, one of the Internet advertisers in the 1999 game.

Monster and a rival employment site,, each said that visits to their sites soared after last year’s Super Bowl exposure, and both are back. Their experience fired the hopes of several of this year’s young Internet entrants.

Among them are information provider; the job site; and women’s Web site

ABC officials say the Internet companies helped push the commercial price to an average of $2.2 million — an astounding $73,333 per second — for each of the 61 half-minute advertisements in the game. The top price for an ad was said to be over $3 million.

The average is a whopping 38 percent more than the previous record $1.6 million that the Fox network claimed for ads in last year’s Super Bowl. The price went up even though the average audience rating tumbled 9 percent last year to the lowest level since 1990.

The attraction is that the Super Bowl delivers the year’s highest TV ratings and audiences in the 120 million to 130 million range.

Some viewers now tune into the game as much for the commercials as for the action on the field, marketing consultants say.

“They watch it because it’s an event,” said Jed Pearsall, president of Performance Research in Newport, R.I.

This year, the ad competition is even stiffer because neither the St. Louis Rams nor Tennessee Titans are from big markets — and don’t have a huge national following. The biggest challenge to advertisers: meeting viewer demands.

“People expect high entertainment value, cutting-edge production and special effects,” said Albert Sanchez, of the Donovan Consulting Group, who is working with Anheuser-Busch on its crop of Super Bowl ads. “Peoples’ bar for Super Bowl ads is much higher than for regular commercials.”

Sanchez said a mediocre ad broadcast during a Super Bowl telecast would spell disaster for the product.

“It translates into baggage that is hard for the product to overcome,” Sanchez said. “People expect to see the best of the best during Super Bowl Sunday.”

Baltimore ad agency Eisner Communications recently released its annual survey of Super Bowl viewing habits and found that eight percent of the viewing audience, an estimated 12 million people, will be watching the game solely for the ads.

Anheuser-Busch, brewer of Budweiser, is the single biggest Super Bowl advertiser with five minutes of commercial time in the game.

Its ads include one designed to tug on your heart strings by showing the birth of a new Clydesdale horse and another with former hockey star Wayne Gretzky driving a tipsy friend home from a bar — on a Zamboni machine.

Pepsi-Cola will pitch its hot-selling Mountain Dew. One ad shows a bike rider chasing a cheetah across African plains, capturing and reaching inside the cat to retrieve a stolen can of Dew.

FedEx inserts a delivery truck into clips from the classic “Wizard of Oz” movie to show it reaches “places other shipping companies can only imagine.”’s ad features its sock puppet singing “Don’t Go” in a plea to owners to spend more time with their pets by using the Web retailer for pet supplies. shows its new computer hand icon driving a hard bargain in a job interview while Tropicana pitches orange juice as “the best 9.3 seconds you can possibly spend on yourself.”

The World Wrestling Federation and Seven-Up each had ads rejected by the ABC standards office, but came up with alternatives. The WWF, which won’t specify what ABC found objectionable, says its new ad shows “the unabashed excitement of WWF fans in unexpected places.” Seven-Up’s original ad got thrown out because it contained an off-color phrase. Its new one may not be much better. It shows a fictional marketing executive exhorting consumers to “show us your cans.”

The dot-coms include the well-established like E-Trade with $700 million in revenue last year. Others are startups that are using investors’ money for their ads because they haven’t yet generated enough revenue to pay the bill. They include the wedding stationery supplier, technology adviser and financial portal OnMoney.

August Busch IV, head of marketing for Anheuser-Busch, says anticipation of these expensive bids for recognition could ultimately benefit established brands like his Budweiser.

“It heightens consumers’ interest in the ‘other game’ being played along with the Big Game,” he said.

Some media buyers say the two small-market teams in this year’s game could lead to lower ratings since neither has a national following.

But others say the Super Bowl will attract a big audience no matter who is in it — and that a close game is the key to retaining viewers.

“Virtually the whole country comes to a standstill when the Super Bowl comes on,” said veteran commercial buyer Bill Croasdale of Western Initiative Media.