Dot-coms sporting a revised ad lineup


There’s a new definition of dot-com “burn rate”: the growing number of Super Bowl dot-com advertisers burning through unlucky advertising agencies.

Dot-com ad fever reached its high-water mark on Jan. 30 when 17 dot-com, e-commerce and tech companies ponied up at least $2 million apiece to strut their stuff before 130 million TV viewers of Super Bowl XXXIV.

Just six months after that Dot-Com Bowl, the body count of ad agencies and even advertisers is piling up. Nine dot-coms have sacked their Super Bowl agency or quit consumer advertising. One is out of business. That leaves just six still with their agency partner (Microstrategy created its spot in-house).

Typically, one or two relationships break up after a Super Bowl bust. But nobody’s seen a post-Super Bowl attrition rate of more than 50 percent. Then again, nobody’s seen a Super Bowl where dot-coms accounted for half the 35 advertisers.

Many of the agencies that executed the Super Blitz feel like the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s called shoot the messenger,” said Marian Salzman, head of the Intelligence Factory. “There’s a sense of genius that pervades the ranks of these companies, the sense that establishment people don’t `get them.’ The first time an establishment agency doesn’t deliver the results they think they should be getting, they blame the agency.”

What’s the fallout for consumers? For one, they should expect fewer dot-com and tech ads in the next Super Bowl.

“It won’t happen again this year after the implosion of the dot-com valuations,” said Chief Executive Richard Johnson. “The Super Bowl epitomized the exuberance and frenzy of the dot-com world: everybody was throwing Hail Mary passes but there were no receivers in the end zone.”

Here’s a breakdown of postgame agency relationships for the Super 17:

Breaking Up is Very Easy to Do. Seven have or plan to split with their agencies. has hired Pile and Co., Boston to find an agency for its $135 million account. The decision was a blow to Mullen, of Wenham, Mass., which created the popular “When I Grow Up” spot. HotJobs’ Johnson compares his split with McCann-Erickson, of Detroit, to “leaving home and going away to college.” Said Johnson: “We need to experience different alternatives if we’re going to learn and grow as a company.”

Similarly, broke with Deutsch, of New York, to “evolve” its marketing strategy, said spokesman Peter Hyman. For now, the company is not “creating mass media advertisements.” dropped Grey Advertising, of New York, to shift ad dollars to “more targeted communications” such as online and direct marketing, said chief marketing officer Ken Pierce.

Some dot-coms say they changed shops for non-game reasons. The Wall Street Journal Online switched from Arnold Communications, Boston to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco to put all Wall Street Journal advertising at one shop. “It had nothing to do with the Super Bowl,” said Randy Kilgore, head of sales and marketing.

Then there’s LifeMinder Inc., which split with Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, recently. The real break came when Fallon refused to do a spot after LifeMinder waited to the last minute to decide whether to get on the game.

LifeMinder’s former marketing chief Tim Hanlon then created the “Worst Commercial on the Super Bowl” with some ex-agency buddies. “People still remember the `Worst Commercial,”‘ said Hanlon, now at

LifeMinder has zero interest in a sequel, said new vice president of marketing Melissa Radin. “We did make a big splash. Will we advertise on the Super Bowl again next year? No.”

Netpliance executives could not be reached on whether they plan to hire their third agency since the game.

Check, Please. Two Super Bowl advertisers, and, have effectively halted all consumer ads at their respective ad agencies, Merkley Newman Harty, New York and Bennett & Co., of Orlando, Fla.

Dot-Gone. went belly up just five months after its 30 seconds of glory. Former executives and its ad agency Geppetto Group, New York, could not be reached for comment.

Still Together. Six dot-com/ad agency marriages survived the Super Bowl: E*Trade and Goodby; and TBWA/Chiat/Day; and DDB; WebMD and Ogilvy & Mather; Oxygen Media and Mullen; and Doner.