Newcomers pay big price to enter ad Super Bowl

Dot-com firms driving up cost, getting noticed

By Greg Farrell USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Although the game is still two months away, it’s not too early to make a prediction about Super Bowl XXXIV: The annual festival of 30-second commercials will be shaken up by wild-card entries.

Each year, the biggest advertisers in the USA — from Anheuser-Busch to Visa — use the game as a forum to reach a mass audience. These big spenders have traditionally produced the most entertaining ads.

But the experienced veterans no longer dominate the field of play. This Jan. 30, look for at least 10 dot-com advertisers to strut their stuff.

Their presence has already been felt: Their arrival has driven up ad prices from a starting point of $1.9 million per 30 seconds to an average of well over $2 million.

A miniature trend that’s beginning to take shape involves commercials for media companies:

* Oxygen Media, the women’s cable network started by Geraldine Laybourne, plans to announce its Feb. 2 launch with a Super Bowl ad.

* Dow Jones, parent company of The Wall Street Journal and financial portal, also has reserved commercial time.

Last January, a handful of dot-com companies used the Super Bowl to generate big traffic to their Web sites. The following Web companies hope to duplicate that success:

* This Web site, which matches accredited investors with start-up companies that need funding, is using the Super Bowl for its launch.

“We provide an opportunity for the entrepreneur to access individual investors,” says Ethan Russman, director of marketing. The site’s ad will run in the pregame show and in the fourth quarter. Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty/New York.

* This company, all of 5 months old, has bought two slots in the pregame show, and one during the game. A dozen agencies are currently pitching the business. According to CEO Mike Zapolin, the winning agency will pursue two strategies, one for an uneventful Y2K, and the other, in case “something horrendous happens.” “We’ll spoof the rest of the dot-com experience, and drive home who we are,” he says.

* This company wrote the book on using the Super Bowl to increase visibility. CEO Richard Johnson gambled $2 million on the last Super Bowl, even though his company’s revenue was only $4 million. He stumbled into a gold mine when censors at Fox, the network which broadcast the game, deemed his original ad to be in bad taste. He scrambled to come up with a new ad in time for the game, and hits to his Web site soared. He promises to make history again in this Super Bowl, with an ad campaign from McCann-Erickson/Detroit.

* Not to be outdone by the competition, bought two Super Bowl ads after HotJobs announced its buy. Its ad, from Mullen Advertising, was more memorable, showing a series of children saying they wanted to grow up to be spineless corporate drones. Monster is back again with new work from Mullen.

* This recruitment site specializes in placing people with specific technology skills, and in helping organizations retain their key people. This will be the company’s first appearance on a Super Bowl.

* This site, which creates specialized announcements for all occasions, is spending close to $4 million on four pregame spots and an ad in the third quarter. “The Super Bowl is one of the only events where people are actually looking forward to the commercials,” CEO Mike Budowski says. Agency: Disney Ideas.

* This company provides specialized content for a wide variety of Web sites. One of its backers, Jay Chiat, has experience with the Super Bowl. Chiat’s old ad agency, Chiat/Day, ushered in the era of Super Bowl “event” advertising with a commercial for Apple Computers in 1984.

* This site has already begun its holiday ad campaign, starring a hand puppet. Look for the puppet to go deep during the Super Bowl. Agency: TBWA/Chiat Day.

* E-Trade. This online trading firm is making the biggest splash of all the newcomers to the game. It is running two ads in the pregame, two during the game, one prior to the start of the third quarter, and it’s sponsoring the half-time show. Competitor Charles Schwab owns the slot between the coin toss and the kickoff.

In addition to the dot-coms, some of the usual players will show up, ready for action:

* Anheuser-Busch. Tony Ponturo, vice president of media and sports marketing, guarantees that A-B will be the biggest advertiser on the game, with several minutes of ads.

* Pepsi. This company, which used the Super Bowl to push Pepsi One this year, has reserved two minutes of ad time for its various products, including Mountain Dew.

* Frito-Lay. The maker of Doritos and Tostitos will be in the game, but don’t look for Ali Landry, a Doritos star in previous years, to return.

* Visa. The card is everywhere it wants to be, and will use its Super Bowl ad slot to tout its Olympics sponsorship.

* World Wrestling Federation. The WWF stormed onto the Super Bowl last January, and launched a successful IPO months later.

* BMW. Fresh off another successful James Bond tie-in, the German automaker has designs on the NFL title game.

* Buena Vista Pictures. Like ABC, the network broadcasting the game, Buena Vista is a division of Disney. It will use the game to promote some of its new releases.

The list of Super Bowl advertisers is subject to change, since some companies buy the time months in advance but decide to back out at the last minute. Likewise, advertisers such as Victoria’s Secret and Apple, which ran spots in last January’s game, didn’t get in until weeks before the kickoff. Among those on the sidelines, trade publications have reported that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are planning a Super Bowl trip.