Few tech companies gear up for Super Bowl


By Gwendolyn Mariano

Staff Writer, CNET News.com

Pets.com’s loud-mouthed sock puppet may have been permanently benched from the Super Bowl advertising lineup, but that doesn’t mean all dot-coms will be standing on the sidelines this Sunday.

Online brokerage company E*Trade and career Web sites HotJobs.com and Monster.com have purchased air time for the broadcast, which is expected to draw some 130 million viewers. Other technology companies purchasing spots include Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) and computer services company Electronic Data Systems.

This year marks a substantial drop in dot-com advertising from last year, when more than a dozen dot-com companies ran Super Bowl commercials. CBS representatives say they expect dot-coms to account for just 10 percent of ad spots this year, compared with 40 percent in 2000.

One thing that likely won’t change is the tone of the tech marketing pitches. In 1984, Apple Computer shook up Madison Avenue with a stylish Super Bowl pitch–based loosely on the George Orwell novel–that portrayed its technology literally destroying an authoritarian regime. Since then, companies have pushed the marketing envelope in a bid to stand out in a crowded field–often treading into absurd, bizarre and occasionally distasteful territory.

This year, for example, EDS said it plans a parody of the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona, Spain, using human actors in squirrel costumes. The company will also feature an interactive game based on the ad on its Web site.

HotJobs, which said this year will mark its third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, will air a spot featuring a silver ball that breaks away from its dull job to a more fulfilling role as part of a game of marbles. The company also plans an interactive game based on the ad.

For die-hard marketing fans who want to keep track of who’s doing what, AdCritic.com said it will be Webcasting all of the Super Bowl ads online 30 minutes after they appear on television.

Analysts said the declining number of dot-coms purchasing ad space in this year’s Super Bowl is not surprising.

“The decline is simply because venture capitalists are not willing to back advertising campaigns that provide lower returns on investment,” said Robert Labatt, a Gartner analyst. “The Super Bowl was a terrible return on their investments for many of the dot-coms that advertised last year.”

Labatt said many of the dot-coms that launched Super Bowl ads last year didn’t follow up with marketing campaigns that would extend their brands. As a result, he said, many of their revenues were insufficient for the expenditures they were making.

Epidemic Marketing, which spent about $2.1 million on a 30-second spot last year, according to Competitive Media Research, belly-flopped only five months later.

Pets.com, which gained quick notoriety because of its googly-eyed sock puppet, spent about $2.6 million with last year’s Super Bowl host, ABC, according to CMR. The company announced in November that it would shut down after not being able to find a buyer or other financing. The company went public in February and amassed $146.6 million of losses through Sept. 30.