Dot-Coms Abandon Super Bowl Field
Volatile industry got mixed results from pricey ads last year
Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Remember the angry brides, the dancing monkey, the thirsty cheetah? They were among the kaleidoscope of advertising images that washed over viewers of Super Bowl XXXIV last year.
But the companies that paid millions of dollars to build their brands with those ads got no bang for their bucks unless viewers could remember them. With three dozen advertisers, 17 of them unfamiliar dot-coms, the glut of ads may have acted against many of the spots.
Online market research firm InsightExpress surveyed 300 Super Bowl viewers last week and found that traditional advertisers, such as Budweiser and Mountain Dew, were the ones that stuck with the audience a year later. Bud’s Wassup guys and the fire truck Dalmations were still fresh in 75.8 percent of the surveyed viewers’ minds; the Mountain Dew cheetah was retained by 48.1 percent.
Britannica.com, which showed Francis Ford Coppola and other celebrities looking up information on the encyclopedia Web site, was remembered by only 2 percent of respondents.
“The Super Bowl is not the place for a Hail Mary. You don’t stand on the 10 yard line, throw and hope the market will catch it,” said Charlie Hamlin, president of InsightExpress in Greenwich, Conn.
Advertising experts say sustained exposure works better than one-shot wonders. Bud and Mountain Dew, of course, advertise regularly on TV.
E-Trade — one of only three dot-coms advertising this year, versus 17 last year — had two much-discussed commercials: the hapless (or lucky) accident victim who had “money coming out the wazoo” and the dancing monkey, followed by a plain screen with the message, “We just wasted $2 million. What are you doing with your money?” Those spots were remembered by 18.1 percent of respondents.
E-Trade, like Monster.com and HotJobs.com, says advertising during the Super Bowl broadcast works for it.
“We feel our marketing during the Super Bowl works to drive new customers, new revenues and ultimately profits for our shareholders,” said Jeff Kruger, marketing manager for the Menlo Park online brokerage.
HotJobs bet the farm for its Super Bowl slot three years ago. The company spent more than half of its revenues for a single spot. Chief Executive Officer Richard Johnson used his house as collateral on a loan to finance it, but he said the effort paid off.
“We raised $165 million after our first year’s commercial (both from venture capital and an initial public offering). Every single investor we talked to knew about us being in the Super Bowl,” he said.
Of course, that was in a different business climate.
The unforgiving environment since last April’s market correction has wreaked havoc with many of last year’s dot-com advertisers. The publicly traded companies, including Healtheon/WebMD, Kforce.com, Microstrategy, HotJobs, E-Trade and LifeMinders, have all seen their stocks nosedive.
Things have gone much worse for others. San Francisco’s Pets.com (the sock puppet) and Epidemic.com are now kaput. Some, like Computer.com, have been sold, while others, like Netpliance and OurBeginnings.com (the angry brides), have changed their business plans dramatically.
“For dot-coms, Super Bowl advertising was efficient — an efficient step toward bankruptcy,” said Bradley Johnson, deputy editor of Advertising Age in New York.