Dot-Coms Punt in Super Bowl
by Jeffrey Terraciano
Last year’s Super Bowl was dominated by dot-coms.
When viewers weren’t watching the Tennessee Titans try to sack St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, they were watching startups perform their own version of a blitz. Seventeen of the 36 companies advertising during Super Bowl XXXIV were dot-coms.
This year things will be a bit different. Seven of the 17 dot-com companies that advertised during last year’s game are now out of business or have been acquired by other companies. So far, only three dot-coms have committed to advertising during Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28.
Pets.com, for example, spent excessively on last year’s Super Bowl and then got sacked. To bring attention to the launch of its site — which coincided with Super Sunday — Computer.com spent $3 million of its $5.8 million of first-round financing on Super Bowl XXXIV. It subsequently sold off its assets to Computers4SURE.com.
So, there won’t be any Pets.com Sock Puppet during beer breaks this time around, nor will there be commercials for WebMD, LastMinuteTravel.com, or Kforce.com, all of which advertised during the game last year.
“Dot-com companies are very cautious about how they are spending their marketing dollars nowadays,” said Christopher Todd, a sports marketing analyst at Jupiter Communications. “Due to the condition of the economy, dot-coms are less likely to throw their money around as freely as they did last January.”
Dot-coms are learning, the hard way, that increasing brand awareness is great if it’s fiscally feasible. But for the steep price of a Super Bowl advertisement, a company can produce many spots targeted to a more Internet-oriented audience.
A 30-second advertisement during last year’s Super Bowl on ABC cost an average of $2.2 million. This year, CBS is expecting an average of about $2.4 million per 30-second spot. High costs and decreased capital investments mean companies must emphasize cost-effective marketing.
CBS kept this in mind when marketing its Super Bowl Sunday commercial slots this year. Leslie Ann Wade, vice president of communications for CBS Sports, said that with all but a few ad slots already sold, CBS is projecting only 12 percent of the companies advertising will be Internet companies. This compares to 47 percent last year.
“Our strategy was to go after traditional advertisers,” said Wade. So far, the only startups to commit to slots are Monster.com, Hotjobs.com and ETrade. Most others have decided to market themselves elsewhere.
One company, however, had a good experience advertising during last year’s Super Bowl. Kforce, a job-hunting site, said 41,000 new users registered with its website following the game.
Media Metrix, a market research firm, reported that Kforce had over 108,000 unique visitors in the 24-hour period following its Super Bowl spot — a 2,600 percent increase over its three-week average leading up to the Super Bowl.
Yet despite that huge return on its investment, Kforce will not return to the Super Bowl this year.
Ken Pierce, chief marketing officer for Kforce, said that last year was a unique situation for the company. Kforce had just changed its name and saw the Super Bowl as an effective way to launch a national brand campaign. This year Kforce is using a strategy that will target its 45 local markets through radio, online and direct advertising.
“All of our expectations were met and exceeded as far as business resulting from our Super Bowl commercial,” Pierce said.
However, he noted that there are more efficient ways to market a company. “Not advertising during the Super Bowl is not so much about the money, it’s about the message we are trying to send.”
Many startups spent over 50 percent of their marketing budget on the Super Bowl last year. Kforce, Pierce said, spent less than 10 percent of its budget.
Of the 17 dot-coms that advertised during last year’s game, many saw it as a one-time, attention-grabbing marketing opportunity. This strategy led to immediate returns for almost every one, but allowed for little in the way of ongoing publicity. When the Super Bowl fervor died, so did the returns on advertising.
For this reason, companies willing to pay the premium rates for a Super Bowl advertisement are using a more integrated approach to marketing.
Even though Monster.com’s advertisement last year was successful — it generated 4.4 million job searches, double the job searches generated by its 1999 Super Bowl advertising — this year the company will be running print, radio, and Internet banner ads in addition to its Super Bowl spot.
Monster will have the second advertisement of the game, following longtime Super Bowl advertiser Budweiser. Zhennaa Gallagher, Monster’s advertising director, said the company can be expected to be a permanent fixture in Super Bowl advertising.
“When we started advertising during the Super Bowl in 1999, our intent was on building the Monster brand name. Our new approach is to inform consumers of the capabilities of Monster through a broader marketing effort,” Gallagher said.
Many dot-coms are adopting the same approach. While they realize the game is a goldmine for publicity — 125 million people around the world are expected to watch the Super Bowl this year — they have also become more creative in using the Super Bowl as a marketing tool after witnessing last year’s fallout.
Some are using the Super Bowl as the focal point for their advertising campaigns, for example, incorporating the score or winner of the game into an online contest, while not planning to advertise during the game at all. Some, are simply placing commercials in smaller, less expensive sporting events and avoiding the Super Bowl completely.
Dot-coms advertising in the college ranks are having a similar response. Companies that sponsor college bowl games are seeing game ratings, along with their exposure, drop annually due to the limited national appeal of these games.
For example, this year’s inaugural Galleryfurniture.com Bowl had only 1,079,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. By comparison, the 20th-ranked television program from another December week had almost 15 million viewers.
So it looks companies might be heading in a more conservative direction in this area as well — only three dot-coms sponsored college bowls this past season, and OurHouse.com pulled its sponsorship of the Motor City Bowl this year.