Ad Rates Are Up for Super Bowl


BUOYED by viewers’ tuning back in to television traditions, Madison Avenue is anticipating that Super Bowl Sunday next month will live up to its superlative designation after two years of falling ad rates.

Interest in Super Sunday sponsorships has increased – along with the prices that ABC is charging to advertise. The average price for a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl XXXVII, to be held on Jan. 26 in San Diego, is up as much as 15.8 percent compared with the most recent Super Bowl, early in February.

The Super Bowl is typically the biggest day of the year for advertising as well as for football, as marketers spend an estimated $150 million to $200 million to run commercials before, during and after the game. Those spots are supplemented with print ads, promotions, online campaigns and publicity – at a cost of tens of millions more – all intended to stimulate viewership levels that sometimes climb to as high as half the American population.

But for the last two years, the sour economy, the dot-com meltdown and the terrorist attacks combined to sharply depress the rates charged by the networks broadcasting the big game. In recent months, though, demand for commercial time on TV, especially on the major broadcast networks, has strengthened.

Also benefiting ABC and its struggling parent, Walt Disney, is an impulse among viewers to re-embrace the tried and true in uncertain times. Evidence includes the high ratings for coverage of most games so far this National Football League season. Big television events, like the season finale of “American Idol,” have also done well. That trend ought to help attract viewers to the Super Bowl, regarded as a midwinter national holiday celebrated by gathering around the electronic hearth.

“Suffice it to say it’s good to be in big-event television right now,” said Ed Erhardt, president for customer marketing and sales at ABC Sports and its cable TV sibling, ESPN, in New York.

Mr. Erhardt and his staff have already been able to sell 85 percent of the 61 30-second commercial slots during the game. They have also peddled spots scheduled for prominent moments – like after the coin toss, claimed by Charles Schwab, and during the halftime show, reserved by AT&T Wireless.

Though Mr. Erhardt declined to discuss rates, agency and marketing executives say they are averaging $2 million to $2.2 million for each 30-second commercial during the game. That compares with an average of $1.9 million in Super Bowl XXXVI.

The rates for the remaining 9 or 10 spots next month could reach the level charged for the Super Bowl in 2001, the executives said, which averaged $2.3 million. It is deemed unlikely they would approach the record set in 2000, when some commercials during the dot-com frenzy went for as much as $2.5 million.

The packages being bought by many Super Bowl advertisers include elements like commercials during the pre- or postgame shows on ABC; on college football bowl games on ABC; on shows related to the Super Bowl on ESPN; and interactive ads on the ESPN and N.F.L. Web sites.

“A number of companies now think of the Super Bowl as a marketing platform,” Mr. Erhardt said, “as opposed to a place where they just run a spot.”

One such business is Anheuser-Busch. In addition to buying the most commercial time during the game – five minutes – it will also run spots before and after, present interactive ads on Web sites and sponsor elaborate promotions in stores under the long-running “Bud Bowl” banner.

Super Bowl commercials for Anheuser-Busch beer brands like Budweiser and Bud Light typically score high marks among consumers whose opinions are monitored during each game. But spots from many marketers misfire – a disaster when so many people are watching such expensive work.

“You’ve got to deliver, nail it, boom, in 30 or 60 seconds,” said Michael Sheehan, president at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, which created a Budweiser commercial for the previous Super Bowl.

“It’s not the best time to be edgy or make people wonder what they saw,” Mr. Sheehan said. “It’s a time for classic story-telling, entertaining viewers with humor and emotion. That’s the recipe for being successful.”

The masters of that recipe are usually found at the New York office of BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group. They often create a third of all spots shown during the game for clients like FedEx; the Masterfoods division of Mars; the Pepsi-Cola division of PepsiCo; and Visa.

“This time, advertisers will be there with more enthusiasm” than was shown during the most recent Super Bowls, said Ted Sann, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO New York. “You can feel the energy coming up behind you.”

Here is a preliminary look at the Super Bowl ad plans of several advertisers.

-Anheuser-Busch. The company is considering spots for brands like Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob as well as to promote drinking responsibly. It works with several agencies, which besides Hill, Holliday include two Omnicom shops, the Chicago office of DDB Worldwide and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.

-H & R Block. A commercial will promote a tax-refiling service called Double Check, said Nicole Gibbs, a spokeswoman for H&R Block, which is based in Kansas City, Mo., and joined the ranks of Super Bowl advertisers in 2002. Agency: Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis, part of Interpublic.

-Cadillac. The luxury-car division of General Motors is returning after performing well with spots in February featuring music by Led Zeppelin. Agency: D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles in Troy, Mich., part of the Publicis Groupe.

-FedEx. A commercial is planned that is “more of a traditional type of ad,” said Jess Bunn, a spokesman for FedEx in Memphis, that will be “funny, but not as edgy as we’ve been in the past.” He declined to offer additional details. Agency: BBDO New York.

-Levi Strauss. A commercial for Levi’s jeans, sold by Levi Strauss & Company, may appear. Agency: the New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

-Masterfoods. The division of Mars is not now scheduled as a sponsor, but is known for buying time at the last minute. The company has two spots for M&M’s nearing completion, and one or both may turn up. One shows a humorous vending-machine mishap and the other salutes the Special Olympics. Agency: BBDO New York.

-Monster. For the fifth consecutive year, Monster, the job-search Web site operated by TMP Worldwide, will be a Super Bowl sponsor. Monster, one of the few dot-coms still being seen on Super Sunday, will aim a spot at employers as well as job seekers. Agency: Arnold Worldwide in Boston, part of the Arnold Worldwide Partners division of Havas.

-Pepsi-Cola. “We’re back in the big game, and it’s not a big surprise,” said Dave DeCecco, a spokesman for Pepsi-Cola North America in Purchase, N.Y., because it will be “our 18th straight year.” Though he declined to discuss the lineup, the spots are expected to sell two newer soda brands, Pepsi Twist and Sierra Mist. Agency: BBDO New York.

-Visa. “We’re certainly going to advertise again,” said Joe Carberry, a spokesman for the Visa USA division of Visa International in San Francisco. “There are no details yet.” Agency: BBDO New York.

That list is, of course, not complete. Some marketers that buy commercials prefer to discuss their spots closer to the game – or not at all, if they want to surprise viewers.