Super Bowl commercials put local ad execs on the spot

By Neil Vigdor

Staff Writer

He’s not a bookie.

But Holland Henton, a transplanted Texan living in Darien, has about 2.3 million reasons to watch tomorrow’s Super Bowl XXXV telecast.

The 39-year-old doesn’t have an ownership stake in either of the two teams competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. He’s not an owner of a pizza delivery empire.

Henton will be watching a MasterCard commercial designed by the advertising firm McCann-Erickson New York, where he is a senior vice president and group creative director.

Henton and his team of marketing masterminds put together the finishing touches on the 30-second spot on Wednesday night. It will air during the second quarter.

“From concept to finish, we’ve been working on it for two months,” he said.

About the time New York Giants coach Jim Fassel guaranteed that his team would make the playoffs after a hideous 10-point loss at home to the Detroit Lions in November, Henton and his colleagues went to work on McCann-Erickson’s only Super Bowl advertising account.

The Giants, who face the Baltimore Ravens, were in a tailspin at 7-4, when Fassel made the pledge. New York won its remaining five regular season games, reaching the playoffs, where the Giants have won twice to advance to the Super Bowl.

The job of an advertising firm is to make its client come out a winner, too. The cost of 30 seconds of commercial air time during tomorrow’s CBS telecast is reportedly $2.3 million.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking to have a spot during the Super Bowl because the commercials are under a microscope,” Henton said. “It’s the one time of year that the focus is often more on the commercial than the game.”

Giants and Ravens fans won’t be the only ones hollering during the Super Bowl. Competition between the different ad agencies is fierce.

“We hoot down other people’s commercials and applaud our own,” said Charlie Miesmer, a senior executive creative director with BBDO Worldwide in New York City.

The 25-year Southport resident’s firm is handling several accounts, including Cingular Wireless, FedEx, Frito-Lay, MGM, M&M/Mars, Pepsi-Cola Co., Pizza Hut and Charles Schwab.

“This is, by far, the most hectic time of the year,” he said.

Miesmer will insist that his friends keep quiet during the commercials, so he can hear the finished product. M&M/Mars will unveil its new Snickers Cruncher bar during the game. Miesmer supervised the taping of the commercials, which focus on things that annoy people, such as talking dolls, clichZøs and car alarms – things that eventually get crunched out of frustration. In one advertisement, a piano crashes onto a car after its alarm sounds, according to Miesmer. An old lady watches from a window above the car, he said.

The magician duo of Penn and Teller was commandeered by BBDO Worldwide to hype stuffed crust pizza for Pizza Hut.

“Penn turns Teller’s head around and he eats (the pizza slice) backwards,” Miesmer said.

While conglomerates such as MasterCard, Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola Co. are Super Bowl advertising veterans, other corporations rely on advertising to increase exposure or reinvent themselves. They are the rookies.

One of those companies is Accenture.

It has taken the Baltimore Ravens almost five years to reach the Super Bowl since the team relocated in 1996 from Cleveland, where it was known as the Browns franchise.

In contrast, Accenture will make it to the Super Bowl only 28 days after acquiring its new name. The firm was known as Andersen Consulting until Dec. 31, when it changed its name because of an arbitrator’s ruling that it could no longer use the old name. The company’s accounting arm, Arthur Andersen, retained its name.

“That’s, of course, the reason we are using the Super Bowl,” said James Murphy, who is the company’s global managing director for marketing and communications.

The Greenwich resident acknowledged that the Super Bowl telecast is the ideal forum for getting word out on the street.

“We made the decision that we needed something with extra impact,” Murphy said.

He confirmed that the going rate for a 30-second advertising spots is $2.3 million. Murphy would not disclose specific figures, but said Accenture is probably paying slightly less for the air time because it purchased multiple spots. Accenture also advertised with the networks during New Year’s college Bowl Championship Series.

“They’re very expensive,” Murphy said. “If it weren’t for the name change, we wouldn’t do it.”

Changing the name of a company with about 70,000 employees is more than just changing business cards. By the way, Murphy said, Accenture printed 7 million new ones.

“These commercials which are starting this weekend will help reposition the company,” he said.

In addition to its consulting activities, Accenture is in the venture capital and outsourcing business, according to Murphy.

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins and Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe won’t be the only people with their eyes on the Super Bowl clock. Timing is everything for advertisers, too.

Henton’s MasterCard commercials will air during the pregame show and during the second quarter.

“I think the second quarter is one of the best placements because the game isn’t decided,” he said.

A tight defensive battle is predicted between the Giants and Ravens. An advertiser’s dream?

“It’s all speculative,” said Henton, who created Southwest Airlines commercials for an Austin, Texas, ad agency before joining McCann-Erickson. He’s lived in Darien for a little more than a year.

Opting to punt or go for it on fourth-and-inches is a game of probability for the coaches. So is selecting air time.

A 30-second Accenture commercial will air in both the first and third quarter. The company also bought two 30-second slots in the second quarter.

“The safest bets, we thought, were in the first three quarters,” said Murphy, who has lived in Greenwich for about 19 years.

Accenture commercials will emphasize the company’s new name and versatile capabilities, Murphy said.

Henton was fairly hush-hush about the MasterCard ads. The company has typically run commercials that compare items that can be purchased with a MasterCard to things that are priceless, such as taking a child to a football game for the first time.

“I can’t give it away,” Henton said.

As for the loyalties of the three men?

“Actually, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan,” Murphy said.

Henton admitted he has developed a see-saw fanaticism for the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans.

When asked if he is a Giants fan, Miesmer said, “How can I not be?”