Big brands battle for viewers

Will return of traditional advertisers mean better commercials on Super Sunday?

By Jane Weaver MSNBC

Stock up on your favorite jumbo bag of nacho chips Super Bowl XXXV, set for Jan. 28, is almost here. As for the Super Bowl commercials and we all know the game is as much about advertising as football this year’s gridiron extravaganza could also go down as the return of the big brand name marketers.

MORE THAN 20 different marketers are paying up to $2.4 million for 30 seconds of commercial time in the Super Bowl, airing on CBS. The network is hoping to bring in $150 million in revenue by selling ad packages which include commercials airing during the event and pre- and post-game ads. Currently, the network has sold about 90 percent of the available commercial time, with a few last quarter spots being held back either for high-paying latecomers or sponsors who want to buy additional time, sources say.

We can’t yet know whether the 35th pro football showcase will compare to last year’s showdown between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans. We also can’t know whether there will be fights between teen girls and their baby-boomer Moms over which half-time show performer is cuter ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake or Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll even become known as the ‘Survivor’ Bowl, given the hype and promotion CBS is planning around the reality show’s sequel ‘Survivor II: The Australian Outback’ airing immediately after the game.

We do know, however, that the plethora of dot-com companies screaming for attention and dragging down the quality of the ad creative, as critics charged is gone. Only 3 Internet-related companies are back: half-time sponsor E*Trade, and


‘With a lot of the dot-com frenzy going on last year, we didn’t expect the quality of the creative to be very high.’ LARRY FLANAGAN Chief marketing officer, MasterCard

This year marks a return of the game as a showcase for the mainstream, traditional advertisers who have dominated the commercial time and sponsorships in the past.

Anheuser-Busch leads the pack as the sole beer sponsor with 4 minutes of commercial time for Budweiser and Michelob. PepsiCo is close behind with a number of spots bought for one or more of its soft drink brands.

Longtime Super Bowl marketer Visa International is returning with 2 30-second spots as is MasterCard International, back in the game after a hiatus last year.

‘We like being in the company of the big brands,’ says MasterCard’s chief marketing officer Larry Flanagan. ‘With a lot of the dot-com frenzy going on last year, we didn’t expect the quality of the creative to be very high, so we thought it was more prudent to take a pass.’

A couple of well-known rookies are buying time in the game. Volkswagen will be the exclusive in-game car company and jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co., struggling to reconnect with a young audience, is making its first appearance.

‘The Super Bowl is embraced by a lot of different advertisers because it delivers a lot of different audiences,’ not just the typical male sports crowd, says Bill Cella, director of national broadcast and programming for Universal McCann. At least 130 million viewers are expected to tune in sometime during the game.


If Super Bowl XXXIV was a creative disappointment as some claimed, will the dominance of marketing veterans in this year’s crop of commercials be as exciting as the gridiron action?

They will if they make some kind of emotional connection with viewers, according to a leading advertising executive.

‘You really need to emotionally connect either with humor or pathos or some other emotional bond or they’ll probably tune you out,’ says Bill Katz, president and co-chief executive of BBDO New York. ‘

Most advertisers guard the creative of their Super Bowl commercials as closely as Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan guards his plans for interest rates. But it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing any angry brides ( or a chief executive’s grandmother ( in the commercials.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s in store from some leading advertisers:

Cingular Wireless. A joint venture of BellSouth and SBC, the new wireless company introduces its new brand name to its 19 million customers around the country. The company isn’t disclosing how much time it bought or when the commercials are airing, but the campaign will center around themes of self-expression and individualism. ‘Humor will be a big part of the campaign,’ says spokesman Clay Owen. ‘We don’t want to be about technology. We want to be about communication.’

Electronic Data Systems. Last year the tech consultant amused and confused viewers with its ‘Cat Herders’ commercial. For its third Bowl appearance, EDS continues in the same metaphorical vein with a 60-second spot. ‘It’ll be a big epic ad using humor,’ says spokesman Jeff Baum.

E*Trade. With title sponsorship of the half-time show, pre-game packages and commercials in the 1st and 3rd quarters, the online brokerage has a heavy presence throughout the event. The new spots will be a continuation of E*Trade’s ‘It’s your money’ theme.

FedEx. Last year FedEx dropped a delivery van into ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for its Bowl appearance. Will FedEx tap into current ‘Cast Away’ fever (Tom Hanks plays a stranded FedEx executive in the hit movie) for its pre-game and in-game ads? The new commercial will be a continuation of its ‘Be Absolutely Sure’ campaign is all the company will say.

Frito-Lay. Will likely air several spots for Doritos, although the commercials haven’t been shot yet, says spokeswoman Lynn Markeley. Frito-Lay has been running a Super Bowl consumer promotion for Doritos, starring Drew Carey and former Super Bowl quarterbacks Jim Kelly and John Elway.

Levi Strauss. The ailing jeans brand needs a touchdown with its first Super Bowl appearance. ‘They’re banking on the pull of the Super Bowl to convince you that you and Levi’s belong together like a horse and carriage,’ says Kurt Barnard of Barnard’s Trend Report. ‘But the jury’s out’ whether it can work, he says. Expect some variation of the current ‘Make them your own’ campaign.

MasterCard. One spot in the 2nd quarter. Will go with one of two different ideas, either a slight twist on the long-running ‘Priceless’ campaign or a sweepstakes spot around its usage program. ‘Both give you a smirk after you see them,’ says Flanagan. ‘Entertainment value is important in the Super Bowl.’