Super Bowl no guarantee for dot-com advertising success

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Lured by the promise of some 130 million receptive viewers, a megabunch of dot-com companies will brave advertising’s biggest stage — the Super Bowl — in hopes of launching their brands.

New faces such as,,, and will join Super Bowl regulars Anheuser-Busch Cos., General Motors Corp., Pepsi Cola Co. and Visa USA for this Sunday’s game in Atlanta.

At an average price of $2.2 million for a 30-second spot, Super Bowl XXXIV is likely to bring in some $130 million for Walt Disney Co.’s ABC. But that hefty price hasn’t deterred the newcomers, who are betting the farm that 30 seconds in the public eye will parlay into a profitable future.

Internet start-ups hoping to use the Super Bowl as a launching pad will need to be prepared for the long haul, a number of advertising experts warn. “People are confusing awareness with branding,” said John Lister, chairman of Lister Butler Consulting Inc., a New York brand identity firm.

Dennis Ryan, executive creative director at WPP Group unit J. Walter Thompson in Chicago — whose client Blockbuster Video will air a spot promoting the home video release of “Runaway Bride” — expects to see a lot of dot-com ads that are high on shock value.

“So much of the Super Bowl is an ego buy,” Ryan said. “It’s guys saying, ‘Look at the size of my corporate investment.”‘

Part of the problem, he said, is that many companies are advertising during the game in order capture the attention of potential investors. “The eye isn’t on consumers. The eye is on Wall Street,” he said.

Although about a dozen of the game’s 61 advertisers will be of the dot-com variety, viewers can still count on appearances from some familiar faces, including a whopping 5 minutes of commercial time from Anheuser-Busch, whose croaking frogs will make a showing in the pre-game hoopla.

The brewer, whose brands include Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob and Michelob Light, will reserve its in-game spots for new campaigns, including work featuring former hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky as the poster boy for responsible drinking.

For Budweiser, the company will bring out its famous Clydesdale horses as well as a new installment in its current “What’s up?” campaign featuring a group of guys hanging around, watching the game, drinking a Bud.

Perennial Super Bowl advertiser Pepsi-Cola is reserving its game time to introduce new work from Mountain Dew’s “Do the Dew” campaign from Omnicom’s BBDO in New York.

One spot features a “Dew Dude” on a BMX bike outriding a cheetah that has stolen his Mountain Dew. Another rewrites Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a humorous ode to Mountain Dew.

Some experts believe this year’s match between two less-than-marquee teams — the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans — may focus even more attention on the advertising, which typically draws higher-than-normal interest from viewers, especially those who are not football fans.

“It’s the only show where people say, ‘Shhhh, the ads are on,”‘ said Jeff Taylor, chief executive of, whose Super Bowl debut last year boosted traffic in its Internet site by 450 percent within the first 24 hours of its broadcast.

As a returning advertiser, aims to continue building the brand it launched last year. The company, a unit of TMP Worldwide Inc., aired its Super Bowl spot in a sustained $50 million campaign that ran throughout 1999. Those efforts have paid off for the Maynard, Mass.-based company, which reported third-quarter profits of $4.9 million on sales of $36.6 million.

Last year’s commercial, a highly acclaimed spot from Mullen Advertising in Wenham, Mass., featured kids talking about their jaded career ambitions (i.e., “When I grow up, I want to claw my way into middle management.”).

Instead of a sequel, the new campaign draws from the Robert Frost poem: “The Road Not Taken.” It features the tagline “Work. Life. Possibilities.”

The plan is to give the commercial heavy play throughout the year. “We’re not thinking this spot will be the most popular spot on the Super Bowl. It has a fairly complex message,” Taylor said.

In the online job-search category, again faces competition from, a company whose 1999 Super Bowl gamble paid off with a 180 percent spike in site visitors after spending half of its 1998 revenues on a Super Bowl ad. The job recruitment site is back this year with ads featuring a giant-size version of the hand icon that appears on computer desktops. The tagline is “The Hottest Hand on the Web.”

It will be joined by newcomer, a site that blends career management with online recruitment services. Its Super Bowl buy, which includes three 30-second spots in the pre-game show and one 30-second spot in the third quarter, is called “Best Man Wins” and uses the tagline: “Opportunity has a new address.”

Although praising the Super Bowl’s effectiveness at bringing together such a huge and willing audience, Gad Romann, chief executive and executive creative director of the Romann Group in New York, counseled against using it as a one-shot road to fame.

“Dot-coms had better be prepared to spend $50 million to $60 million annually to keep their brand moving forward,” he said.

David Lubars, president and creative director at Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis, said he expects money will be wasted on this year’s Super Bowl. “Every year there is a lot of waste. Only a few Super Bowl spots stand out,” he said.

Fallon has three clients represented in Sunday’s game — BMW of North America, which will advertise its new X5 sport-utility vehicle; John Nuveen & Co., which will announce a new brand identity, Nuveen Investments, and information technology company Electronic Data Systems Corp.

For EDS, Fallon created a spot that portrays the company’s technology problem-solving abilities in a commercial that plays on the expression, “It’s like herding cats.” Cowboys rustle up cats and discuss the challenges of their job. “The commercial is an epic form on an epic medium,” Lubars said.

He believes the Super Bowl will always be a good platform for advertisers, as long as they do their homework. “The Super Bowl offers no guarantee; just opportunity,” he said.