Marketers Who Have Abandoned The Super Bowl

Many Seek a Better Bang for Their Advertising Buck Elsewhere

By Rich Thomaselli

NEW YORK ( — When technology company EDS felt it had to establish its brand, it went straight to the biggest advertising play on TV: the Super Bowl. In 2000 and 2001, EDS advertised during the game with humorous and memorable commercials, “Cat Herding” and “Running with the Squirrels,” from Publicis Groupe’s Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis.

Its mission accomplished, EDS then opted out. No ads last year, and none slated for Super Bowl XXXVII airing Jan. 26 on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC.

‘Shock value’

“We needed the shock value of appearing in the Super Bowl at the time we did it, and it worked well for us for two years,” said Tom Mattia, vice president of global communications for EDS. But he said EDS’s target audience of executives at the top global 1,000 companies is “a pretty defined market. It’s not a whole lot of people and now we’re looking at venues to get specifically to them. I’m not precluding the fact that we’ll go back to the Super Bowl someday, but not right now.”

EDS is far from the only advertiser to abandon the Super Bowl. Just look at the list of the 10 greatest Super Bowl commercials of all time, as determined in last year’s USA Today poll and presented in a special on Viacom’s CBS.

Of the nine marketers on that list, seven — Nike, Coca-Cola Co., Apple, Xerox Corp., E-Trade, Frito-Lay’s Doritos and McDonald’s Corp. — either won’t be advertising in-game during the upcoming Super Bowl or haven’t advertised for years. Other marketers in previous Super Bowls that won’t be seen in this year’s 61 Super Bowl slots include MasterLock, Honda Motor Co., Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp., among others. Most say taking a pass hasn’t hurt them.

One day vs. 364

“It’s a wonderful, one-day event and it truly is the Super Bowl of advertising,” said a vice president of marketing for a company who previously advertised during the game. “But, yeah, while you may not get the one-day pop, you can still get your message across on the other 364 days of the year.”

Bill Katz, president-CEO of Omnicom Group’s BBDO Worldwide, New York, agreed. “Nobody is missed if they don’t advertise on the Super Bowl,” Mr. Katz said. “That’s a marketing colloquialism. No consumer is sitting there saying, ‘Hey, where’s Coke? Where’s McDonald’s?'”

Oddly enough, BBDO is the agency whose clients have bought the most time on the Super Bowl in recent years.

For a variety of reasons, the Super Bowl isn’t so super for every marketer.

Steep ad cost

One is financial. As recently as the 1994 big game, the average cost of a 30-second spot went for less than $1 million. In 1996, it was $1.1 million; seven years later, it’s double that. Connie Dotson, chief communications and knowledge officer for E-Trade, said that after sponsoring the halftime show the last two years, E-Trade did a cost vs. return analysis — and decided to punt.

“It just didn’t work for us,” said Ms. Dotson, who would not elaborate on the numbers, but said the return on investment had worked well in past years and E-Trade may consider going back to the game in the future.

Not always a good fit

Another hurdle is philosophical. In many cases, a Super Bowl buy just isn’t a good fit. Despite an average of 130 million viewers and a high female viewership, for example, you won’t find ads for Procter & Gamble Co.’s Oil of Olay on the game. Advertisers looking for big-event venues for women’s products such as cosmetics are more apt to choose showcases like the Academy Awards.

Some simply choose to pick their spots. Coca-Cola Co., for example, had the “Mean” Joe Greene commercial during the 1980 Super Bowl, where the former Pittsburgh Steelers star drains a Coke given him by a child, and tosses the kid his jersey in return. That spot was voted the greatest Super Bowl commercial of all time. But Coca-Cola has run an in-game spot just twice since 1991, and one of those was for its Surge brand. In doing so, it left the field to Pepsi-Cola Co., which has become the dominant marketer in the game, along with Anheuser-Busch.

Some just aren’t creative

Mr. Katz said he would add a fourth reason why some advertisers stay away. “Out and out creativity,” he said. “Some advertisers have it and some of them don’t. And some agencies are geared to make those kinds of commercials, and some aren’t. The Super Bowl has become a spot where consumers will watch the commercials with more scrutiny than any other place.”

In most cases, though, advertisers avoid the Super Bowl because of a reallocation of dollars or because they are looking elsewhere to get the biggest bang for their bucks. EDS took the money it would have spent on the 2002 Super Bowl and bought a barrage of 58 spots over the 17-day coverage of last February’s Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

This year, it signed a deal through 2005 to become the official technology-services sponsor for the Tournament of Roses, which includes college football’s Rose Bowl game and the New Year’s Day Tournament of Roses Parade. EDS is also now the title sponsor through 2006 of the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Classic, a prestigious golf tournament in May.

“We did what we wanted to do with the Super Bowl. That is, we wanted to shake the market a bit and have people say, ‘Who is EDS?’ ” Mr. Mattia said. “Now we want to have an ongoing, sustainable campaign.”

~ ~ ~ Mercedes M. Cardona contributed to this report.