Traditional heavy hitters return to Super Bowl lineup

Just 3 of 17 dot-coms in last year’s game are back

By Michael McCarthy

and Theresa Howard


As the clock ticks toward the kickoff of Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28, traditional advertisers are routing upstart dot-coms.

With 90% of commercial time sold on the CBS broadcast, traditional marketers outnumber dot-coms 16 to 3. That’s a far cry from ABC’s “dot-com bowl” last year, when 17 dot-coms and Web companies, almost all rookies, were among the game’s 36 advertisers.

“The big guys are back,” says Joe Abruzzese, CBS president of ad sales.

High-profile first-timers such as Volkswagen and Levi’s are joining the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Pepsi and Visa. The going rate to get into the game: a record $2.3 million per 30-second ad slot. The game is the most-watched TV event of the year, with 130 million U.S. viewers and 800 million worldwide.

The dot-coms? Only three of the 17 are back:, and E-Trade.

CBS is aiming for a record haul of $150 million in ad sales, according to Abruzzese. That’s not counting the loot from the debut of Survivor: The Australian Outback after the Super Bowl or local ad sales.

The Super Bowl’s annual adfest has become the game within the game, complete with winners and losers, touchdowns and fumbles. This year it looks like a microcosm of trends driving the ad industry.

The dot-com collapse is affecting the lineup of ad players. “It’s not surprising the dot-coms are almost gone. All their money is gone,” points out marketing consultant Laura Ries of Ries & Ries, Atlanta.

The big marketers viewed the no-name dot-coms as unruly kids crashing a private party last year. “The big guys got outclassed by the little dot-coms as far as attention and (public relations),” says Ries. “Now they’re sending a message: Super Bowl is our territory.”

This game involves as many egos in the boardroom as on the field. Says ad development expert Michael Markowitz: “There’s not a CEO in America who doesn’t want secretly to be on the Super Bowl. It’s the biggest ‘Look at me’ statement a CEO can make.”

For consumers, the Super Bowl should be less confusing. Amateur hour is over. Gone will be such cheapo entries as’s “Worst Commercial.” Ditto the founders of casting their two favorite actors — themselves — in a $2 million spot.

More multiple ads

Instead, Super Bowl XXXV will feature fewer advertisers buying more time. Only 20 or so advertisers will divide 30 minutes of in-game commercial time vs. 36 advertisers last year. And more will follow the A-B/Pepsi model of 60-second spots and multiple ads. Says Abruzzese: “The trend this year is to really make a statement. Viewers saw a lot of single-unit sponsors last year. This year, you’ll see sponsors with multiple units.”

CBS is commanding record prices, but the dot-com meltdown meant it had to work harder and longer to get those fees.

So many dot-coms rained a “meteor shower of cash in advance” on ABC, as one CBS executive puts it, that last year’s game was virtually sold out for months. The result was that many traditional advertisers “got forced out by pricing or availability,” Abruzzese says.

Now some advertisers, such as MasterCard, that missed last year, are back in the game.

Here’s a scouting report on the ad players you’ll see Super Sunday. The lineup may change as CBS sells its last few spots and advertisers drop in and drop out:

* Anheuser-Busch. The largest advertiser, with four minutes of commercial time or eight 30-second spots, it has the coveted first spot after kickoff. It’s the exclusive beer advertiser for the 13th straight year. Look for A-B to run a mix of 60-second and 30-second spots featuring Budweiser, Bud Light, responsible drinking and possibly Michelob Light. New “Whassup?!” commercials are in the works. “Super Bowl allows us to showcase our commercials for the year,” says Tony Ponturo, A-B’s vice president of corporate media. “It’s the dominant media vehicle anywhere.” Ad agencies: DDB, Leap Partnership, Fusion Idea Lab, all Chicago; Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

* PepsiCo. The second-biggest advertiser, with three minutes of commercial time, features flagship Pepsi-Cola after benching it the past two years in favor of Mountain Dew and Pepsi One. Other possible brands: Pepsi One, Diet Pepsi and new Sierra Mist. The more youth-oriented Mountain Dew sponsors Survivor II after the game. The cola giant might sideline “Pepsi Girl” Hallie Eisenberg in favor of real consumers and celebrities promoting a new “Joy of Pepsi” theme. “She is still part of the family, but one of the things we pride ourselves on is a sense of freshness,” says Dawn Hudson, senior vice president of strategy and marketing for Pepsi-Cola. “You could be hearing about a few spots that don’t use Hallie Eisenberg. But it would be misinformation to say she is gone from everything.” Agency: BBDO, New York.

* Volkswagen. The German giant thumbs its nose at domestic rivals such as General Motors by paying to be the exclusive auto advertiser, with two minutes of time. For its first-ever Super Bowl foray, VW has one 60-second and two 30-second spots in the first and third quarters. “We definitely want to start the year with some big news,” says spokesman Tony Fouladpour. CBS’ offer to exclude other carmakers sealed the deal. Agency: Arnold Worldwide, Boston.

* Accenture. With four 30-second spots with the theme: “Now it Gets Interesting,” the former Arthur Andersen Consulting is using the Super Bowl as the centerpiece of a $175 million global campaign to alert consumers and clients to its new name. Says James Murphy, global managing director of marketing: “We need maximum impact as we launch the name.” The visibility may help Accenture reach its goal of recruiting 20,000 new hires a year, he adds. “This will work for us. I know it will,” says Murphy. Agency: Young & Rubicam, New York.

* EDS. With one 60-second spot in the first quarter, the tech company plans another big-budget spectacle similar to the “Cat Herders” spot on last year’s game. The tab: $6 million in media and production costs alone. EDS spent $7 million last year. EDS is willing to pay extra millions for a 60-second spot, “because we want sufficient time to tell a story,” explains Don Uzzi, senior vice president of global advertising. He estimates the company got a rate of return of $5 to $7 for every dollar invested last year. “Clients ask to use ‘Cat Herders’ at their own meetings. Consumers ask for the spot,” says Uzzi. Agency: Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis.

* Cingular Wireless. The $12 billion joint venture between SBC and BellSouth has bought multiple 30-second spots to highlight its new brand name, sources with knowledge of the deal say. Spokesman Clay Owen will say only: “The Super Bowl is a great opportunity to launch a new brand.” Agency: BBDO, New York and Atlanta.

* E-Trade. Two 30-second spots plus sponsoring the Halftime Show. “People love to laugh along with Super Bowl advertisers. In fact, it’s the only venue in the whole year where the advertising is just as big as a story itself,” says Mike Sievert, chief sales and marketing officer. Agency: Goodby Silverstein, San Francisco.

* Two 30-second spots. Monster is deciding which of five completed spots to use. “People are looking for us to be in the game,” says Peter Macklow, Monster’s senior vice president of marketing. “We were there before it was the dot-com bowl.” Monster and rival return for the third year in a row. Agency: Arnold, Boston.

* One 30-second spot in the third quarter features a desk toy breaking out of the corporate pack to find its own destiny, to the tune of The Mamas & the Papas’ Go Where You Wanna Go. The spot shows HotJobs’ “maturity as a company,” says CEO Richard Johnson. “We’re not going for shock therapy or shooting gerbils out of a cannon.” Agency: Weiss Stagliano Partners, New York.

* FedEx. With one 30-second spot, look for a high-end production similar to last year’s “Oz” commercial. “This is the biggest arena to reach 120 million customers at once. We have found it to be very effective,” says spokeswoman Carla Boyd. Agency: BBDO, New York.

* Levi’s. One 30-second spot in the second quarter anchors a “serial” commercial pushing new 569 jeans for men. (See story, right). Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco.

* MGM. One 30-second spot touting the February release of Hannibal, starring Anthony Hopkins. MGM last appeared seven years ago with its Silence of the Lambs trailer. “This allows us to reach a huge audience two weeks before we open,” says Jeff Killingsworth, senior vice president of media for MGM. “We would be on the air anyway at this time. It’s great that we have a no-risk opportunity.” Agency: BBDO, New York.

* Sony Pictures. One 30-second spot in the fourth quarter promotes the June release of A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger. “We’ve got some great material that can really make a visual impact,” says Jeff Blake, president of worldwide marketing and distribution. Agency: The Ant Farm, Los Angeles

* MasterCard. One 30-second spot, which is a new execution of the popular “Priceless” campaign. Agency: McCann-Erickson, New York.

* M&M/Mars. One 30-second spot promoting new Snickers Cruncher Bar. Agency: BBDO, New York.

* Universal. At least one 30-second spot.

* Warner Bros. At least one 30-second spot.

* Visa. At least one 30-second spot. Agency: BBDO, New York

* Philip Morris. At least one 30-second spot.

The Super Bowl remains the top property in the media market due to its reach. “You’re able to reach half the American public in one shot,” says Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports chief turned TV consultant.