It's ads, not football, leading the Super Bowl craze

By Jennifer Laidlaw

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hate football? Well, that doesn’t mean you have to pass up the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The biggest extravaganza in American football has in many ways also become the advertising event of the year, with household names such as PepsiCo Inc. , Anheuser-Busch Cos. , the brewer of Budweiser and Bud Light, Visa, and MasterCard using the Big Game to kick off new and entertaining campaigns.

Eager Super Bowl XXXV advertisers are paying an average of $2.3 million for a 30-second spot to score with the 130 million viewers expected to be watching the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens battle for the National Football League championship.

The contest, being broadcast by Viacom Inc.’s, CBS television network, is typically among the top-rated events of the year. Industry sources say that CBS is garnering $200 million in ad revenue from the game — the most in Super Bowl history. Last year’s broadcaster, ABC, was estimated to have pulled in $130 million in ad revenues.

“The Super Bowl is just an incredible event in terms of the numbers and, also, consumers pay a lot of attention to the advertising,” said Elisa Romm, vice president of North American brand building at long-time Super Bowl advertiser MasterCard, which is returning to the game after taking a break last year.

“The Super Bowl reaches everybody. MasterCard is used by everybody,” she said. “In essence, it is a smart media buy by us.” MasterCard is launching two new 30-second spots in its ongoing Priceless campaign.

And the ads can count more than the game.

“It’s become an ad sweepstakes because the game sometimes isn’t that good,” said Bob Lachky, vice president of brand management of Anheuser-Busch, well known for using the Super Bowl to launch ads such as the croaking bullfrogs to promote its Budweiser brand.

“We always introduce new ads on the Super Bowl; that’s part of the game,” he said. “You are going to get roundly criticized if you use the same ads on the Super Bowl.”

This year one of the Bud ads features a touching scene between a Budweiser icon — the Clydesdale horse — and a mouse. There is also a socially responsible ad featuring teen pop music heartthrobs ‘N Sync.

Experts say the Super Bowl ad craze started with Apple Computer Inc.’s widely acclaimed commercial, shown only once during the 1984 game, to launch the first Macintosh.

“That was such a powerful ad, that it set the tone,” said Burkey Belser, president and creative director of agency Greenfield Belser.

The Apple ad was such a groundbreaker because it had all the elements needed to score in the Super Bowl, experts say.

“It has to break through the clutter; it has to be imaginative and it has to be very simple,” said Bob Kuperman, chief executive for the Americas at Omnicom Group’s TBWA Worldwide, which created the memorable 1984 Apple ad. “There’s a lot of chaos going on around you” during game.

TBWA hopes to score another touchdown in 2001 with the first-ever Super Bowl ads for jeans maker Levi Strauss, which will launch its 569 jeans for men with a 15-second teaser before the game.

During the game, a 30-second spot tells how a jean donor saves a young man’s life with a pair of the 569 jeans. Levi’s finishes off with a sequel.

M&M Mars will also reach out to consumers with a pre-game teaser.

It is using the Super Bowl to launch its new Snickers Cruncher bar through an interactive approach. The Snickers ad features a street vendor selling little dolls that keep repeating a repertoire of cliches. Annoyed customers crunch the dolls to shut them up — but it will be up the public to decide which of the phrases they find the most irksome.

M&M Mars has chosen three of the most overused phrases of 2000 and viewers can pick via the Internet the phrase they would like to see crunched.

“We really wanted to do something for the Super Bowl that was unique and memorable,” Scott Hudler, brand communicatins manager at M&M Mars, said. “We wanted to do something that would help us stand out from the crowd.”

Industry experts say it is no surprise that consumer goods companies dominate the game, because it’s Pepsi and beer that most people seem to want while they’re watching the game. But other companies are also taking their chances.

While some use the Super Bowl to launch a new campaign or product, Accenture, formerly known as Andersen Consulting, is trying to launch its new name.

“Because we are changing the name of the firm and because we are trying to broaden our reach, we felt that we needed to have a greater impact,” said James Murphy, global managing director for marketing and communications at Accenture.

The company will air a series of four ads during the Super Bowl, seeking to bridge the old economy and the new. Murphy said one of the ads shows a salesman and a buyer test-driving a car, but the driver suddenly disappears from the salesman’s sight.

The ad is aiming to show that 65 percent of Internet shoppers drop off sites before actually buying anything, Murphy explained.

Electronic Data Systems, the world’s No. 2 computer services provider, after a wildly successful debut, is taking another run at the Super Bowl this year. The company said it scored so many firsts with last year’s Cat Herds ad, that it had to return. Company officials said the ad raised the company’s brand awareness and even brought back employees who had left for dot-coms.

“It was a no brainer for us to go back,” said Don Uzi, senior vice president for global advertising, marketing and communications at EDS. “On a very quantitative basis, the commercial is a home run,” he said.

This year’s ad is entitled Running with the Squirrels and is a parody of the famous running of the bulls that takes place annually in Pamplona, Spain, said David Lubars, president and executive creative director of Fallon Minneapolis, which created the ad.

Instead of bulls, it features squirrels and “is about agility and nimbleness that you see in the market place,” Lubars said.