Super Bowl ad rates cool off

By Kelly Pate

Denver Post Business Writer

The Super Bowl may be as smart an indicator of the economy as inflation or job growth.

Advertising rates for this year’s championship game have cooled off for the first time in nine years.

“This is such an anomaly. They go up every single year,” said Debbie Jordan, vice president of media at McClain Finlon Advertising in Denver.

Officials at CBS, which is airing Super Bowl XXXV, declined to discuss specific prices. But industry insiders estimate advertisers are paying about $2 million for a national 30-second slot, about what they paid last year.

In 1999 rates averaged $1.6 million, according to research by Advertising Age, an industry trade publication.

Rates for the Super Bowl have increased each year since the first championship game in 1967, with the exceptions of 1971 and 1992. In those years, the economy was climbing out of a recession. Some economists – as well as President-elect George W. Bush – believe we may now be sliding into one.

“I think it’s a supply and demand issue,” said Scott Adkins, general manager of Denver’s J. Walter Thompson office. His team created the recent Ford Focus ad campaign, and will kick off a new series of Focus ads during the Super Bowl.

“Traditional advertisers got squeezed out last year by the dotcoms. That drove prices up,” Adkins said.

Jordan agreed.

“The dot-coms are in the phase of survival of the fittest. They spent more money on Super Bowl ads than they had in the bank. Many have gone out of business,” he said.

Among the Super Bowl dot-com advertisers were Epidemic Marketing, a Boulder company dissolved after financing fell through last spring. And died out in November, despite their memorable “sock puppet” ad.

Those dot-com companies that renewed a Super Bowl slot have broader market appeal, like and E-Trade, which allows customers to buy and sell stocks online.

As of last week, only a handful of companies that advertised last year are returning: Budweiser, Charles Schwab, EDS, E-Trade, Federal Express, and M&M/Mars/Snickers.

Jordan and others say advertising rates are down across all media. Competitive Media Reporting forecasts a “marketplace correction” for 2001.

The New York research firm expects total U.S. ad spending to rise 3.8 percent in 2001 to $107 billion, compared with the 14.5 percent increase between 1999 and 2000 to $103 billion.

“The dot-coms drove up media costs not only for the Super Bowl but a lot of media nationally, and in markets like San Francisco, where most of the dot-com users live,” Jordan said. “It was sort of an artificial economy. It wasn’t real money. You can’t grow that fast.” A slower economy and other factors also figure in.

“Its an odd year,” Jordan said. “The dot-com meltdown and the absence of the Olympics and a political campaign brings us back to reality.” Jordan also thinks fewer people are excited about this year’s teams, the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants.

As of October, CBS had sold about three-quarters of its 30-second spots. That climbed to 80 percent by year-end. And a last-minute surge left only one spot vacant as of Friday.

“I think a lot of people waited to see if there were any fire sales,” Jordan said.

Adding to the attraction for advertisers are half-time entertainment by Aerosmith and ‘N Sync, and the debut of the TV series follow-up “Survivor II” after the game, which could help offset the typical drop-off in viewers during the fourth quarter.

The last episode of the first “Survivor” series drew 52 million viewers. Super Bowl XXXIV drew 131 million and the Academy Awards show 79 million. Super Bowl XXXV is expected to attract 120 million viewers. While Super Bowl ad prices are top secret, Adkins said Ford is happy with what it’s paying.

“I think the Super Bowl was well priced this year,” he said. “Based on what I know, they have a better projection of the audience this year than other years.”

Every advertiser negotiates its rate. Those who advertise in the Super Bowl only typically will pay more than companies who purchase airtime for the next year.

Ads are sold nationally and by market, as well. A Ford Focus ad is running only in select markets, including Denver.

JWT debuted the Ford Focus “Dude” commercial last spring and will kick off a new, similar series during the Super Bowl. The campaign will run at least a year, Adkins said.

The ads target twentysomethings and promote Focus on value and price listed “under $12,500.”

In the Ford Super Bowl ad, five friends coast down a two-lane highway, carefree and relaxed when two motorcycle cops approach. Suddenly, everyone sits up straight and fakes a serious face. The camera goes to the cops, wearing 1970s style mirrored sunglasses. Their deadpan faces turn to grins. The camera cuts back to the car and all five riders are now wearing the same glasses and start miming the theme to “CHiPs,” the popular ’70s cop show.

The voice over says, “Suspicious looks, not a suspicious price.” The car price and other information flashes on the screen.

Adkins said Focus is targeted to young people, and so the agency chose only select markets.

National spots make the most sense for companies whose audience is broad. Lots of people drink beer, eat candy bars and send things through the mail, so it makes sense for Budweiser, Snickers and Federal Express to ante up millions.

“Super Bowl time is a pretty efficient thing to buy if you buy a lot of television,” Adkins said. “For those companies marketing mass consumer products it’s a good fit.”

EDS, which won honors for “Herding the Cats” last year, will debut another ad aiming to position the information technology company as a nimble player in the new digital economy.

In last year’s ad, ranchers herded cats instead of cattle. This year, squirrels replace bulls in a commercial shot outside of Madrid.

Invesco Funds Group of Denver bought a national Super Bowl spot for the first time.

“Our goal is brand recognition,” said Invesco spokeswoman Molly Cisneros.

The mutual funds manager will release a follow-up to its “Masters of the Game” series, featuring football coach Bill Walsh. The first two ads featured tennis star Chris Evert and NBA great Bill Russell.

Copyright 2001 The Denver Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.