Last year's rookies back for more

Michael McCarthy and Theresa Howard USA TODAY

NEW YORK — As some big names, such as Nike, pass on the annual Super Bowl of advertising, there’s no shortage of marketers ready to take their places on Sunday.

You haven’t really arrived on Madison Avenue until you’re in the Super Bowl.

That challenge and a spending recovery in the $245 billion ad industry have helped Super Bowl network ABC clean up. It is close to a sellout, with less than six of 61 30-second slots left to sell, all in the second half. ABC is getting up to $2.2 million a slot, up 10% to 15% from last year.

“The Super Bowl raises the whole level of advertising, and it does it all year,” says Ed Erhardt, ESPN and ABC Sports ad sales chief.

But to be a winner, an ad has to score a touchdown with several audiences: consumers, media and their own employees.

“There’s a lot of pressure to create ads that both entertain and sell,” says John Ceneviva, senior vice president of branding for Hanes, which is back in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1985 with a spot with Michael Jordan and Jackie Chan. “Super flops happen when advertisers and agencies try to be entertaining without paying attention to their message to consumers.”

With less than a week before kickoff, here’s a scouting report on some of the ad teams and trends you’ll see on Sunday:

* What sophomore jinx? Three rookies from last year are back for more: Cadillac, Quizno’s and H&R Block.

Cadillac will gamble its entire multimillion investment on a single 90-second ad rather than play it safe with three 30-second spots.

The ad, called “17th Street,” is a journey through time. A man in 1950s clothes walks onto a subway car past Cadillac posters of the era. As the train moves through the tunnel, he begins to see ads for today’s Cadillacs, such as the Escalade SUV. At the end of the spot created by D’Arcy Advertising in Troy, Mich., he emerges from the car in contemporary clothes and passes a poster for the new XLR roadster. “You could have seen it coming,” says actor Gary Sinise in a voice-over.

Why the Super Bowl? “It’s uniquely American. For us, Super Bowl is the biggest show in America,” says Mark LaNeve, Cadillac’s general manager.

Sub chain Quizno’s tried dark humor last year but goes for a gentler approach this year using Jimmy Lambatos, its actual chief chef. Chef Jimmy is so into his job cooking subs that he forgets his pants, mortifying younger cooks, in a spot by Cliff Freeman and Partners, New York. Is America ready for Chef Jimmy in his briefs?

“That’s Jimmy and that’s Jimmy’s underwear. We’re trying to break through and stand out,” says Brooksy Smith, executive vice president of marketing.

The chain’s first appearance boosted sales throughout 2002, he says. “Most Americans couldn’t even pronounce our name last year.”

H&R Block also goes for belly laughs by lampooning singer Willie Nelson’s real-life troubles with the Internal Revenue Service (news – web sites), in a spot by Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. “We were looking for somebody who got bad tax advice, and Willie Nelson certainly fit the bill,” says David Byers, chief marketing officer.

* Rookie. In its first outing, Pfizer’s Trident will answer the question: What motivated the fifth dentist in its longtime ad claim that “four out of five dentists” recommend Trident for patients who chew gum. Answer? He was bitten by a squirrel when it was his turn to answer and screamed, “No.” J. Walter Thompson, New York, created the 15-second spot.

* Sneaker wars. With Nike on the sidelines, Reebok jumped in with its first spot since 1994. Overzealous office worker “Terry Tate, office linebacker” rights the wrongs of inconsiderate co-workers in a 60-second spot by Arnell, New York, and Hypnotic, Los Angeles.

* Veterans. Visa is back with two 30-second ads, a new spot and one from existing work in its identity confusion series promoting its check-cashing card. Two current ads show NFL twins Tiki and Ronde Barber and father and son Martin and Charlie Sheen getting grilled by sales clerks who can’t tell either pair apart.

* Job search. Finding a new job typically tops lists of New Year’s resolutions, so job boards Monster and Yahoo’s HotJobs make their fifth consecutive appearances.

* Wired for sound. Levi’s and Pepsi take to the Web to build hype about their ads before the Super Bowl. Levi’s last week began to post clues about where a pair of its new Type 1 jeans are buried for its “Gold Rush” promotion. The final clue appears in the Levi’s Super Bowl ad for a chance to strike it rich with a $150,000 jackpot that includes cash and a pair of gem-studded jeans.

Pepsi teams with Yahoo again to let consumers vote for the ending of a Sierra Mist ad. Snippets of ads for the national launch of the lemon/lime soda are being posted at or Consumers who choose the ending that airs qualify for a prize valued at $75,000.

One Super Bowl question mark: All bets could be off if shooting starts in Iraq.

“You would hope America would still want to enjoy the game. But if there’s a national emergency, the whole playing of the game might come into question,” says Bob Lachky, head of brand management for Anheuser-Busch, the largest ad buyer with 5 1/2 minutes. The brewer “will do the right thing, whatever the right thing is,” he says.