Web firms: Super Bowl ads not a super idea


January 1, 2001

Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT)

by Terry Lefton

(IDG) — Last winter Autotrader.com, viewed the Super Bowl as a talisman for fame and fortune. The used-car marketer was just one of 17 dot-com, technology or e-commerce companies that bought ads. This Jan. 28 the company is passing on the football fest, preferring instead to widen its advertising game plan to include a variety of sporting events. Its latest TV buys are on CBS’s regular and post-season NCAA basketball telecasts and the initial year of NASCAR telecasts on Fox. These deals follow a season-long campaign on Fox’s NFL broadcasts.

“The Super Bowl tripled our site traffic and really gave what was a brand associated with a print product a big boost,” says Clark Wood, VP marketing, “but to spend money on the Super Bowl this year would be a huge waste of money.”

While not all Super Bowl advertisers have been announced this year, so far only three Internet marketers — E-Trade and the competing job sites Monster.com and Hotjobs.com — have forked over the $2.5 million or so it takes to buy an in-game spot on the CBS telecast. The information technology outsourcing company EDS is also returning as an advertiser. But the lessons from last year’s cash-drunk attempts to create overnight Internet brands are sobering. Driving traffic wasn’t enough: Seven companies that advertised, including Pets.com and Computers.com, are out of business, while others learned that more site visits couldn’t mask unsound business fundamentals, however entertaining the ads.

“Advertisers fail if they entertain without a message or if they sell without entertaining,” says Michael Sievert, chief sales and marketing officer for E-Trade, “It’s a balancing act.” E-Trade will sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show for the second consecutive year and will also have its logo emblazoned on cushions covering all 66.321 seats at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the site of Super Bowl XXXV.

Still, Autotrader.com will break a new ad in early February, about the same time as its Super Bowl launch this year. “Sports work well for us, because they skew predominantly male, like our business,” says Wood. “Last year’s Super Bowl was incredibly valuable to us because it gave us a big kick start, but this year we just don’t feel it will give us the same kind of value.”