Super Bowl Ads Aim for Sensation, but Not Too Much

By Adam Pasick

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Osbournes, Osmonds, Clydesdales, and rabid squirrels are on tap for this year’s Super Bowl commercials, as marketers desperately vie to make an impression in front of the biggest television audience of the year.

In a high-stakes game where each 30-second spot goes for more than $2 million, smaller advertisers like HotJobs, a unit of Yahoo Inc. are putting all of their marketing eggs in one commercial, while giants like brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. are fielding as many as 11 ads.

With under five days remaining, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Network still has “less than five” commercial spots yet to be sold, according to a spokeswoman. That suggests that some former Super Bowl advertisers like Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Masterlock decided the game’s exposure just wasn’t worth the money this year.

The HotJobs ad, featuring a variety of workers singing Kermit the Frog’s signature song “The Rainbow Connection,” is a straightforward ad without high-tech gimmickry or gross-out hijinks.

At the other extreme are a series of slapstick ads for Pfizer Inc.’s Trident, which explain why only four of five dentists recommend the gum. (One Trident ad, guaranteed to cause wincing among male viewers, blames it on a bloodthirsty squirrel). And Pepsi’s special effects-laden ad for its Pepsi Twist drink features the borderline-overexposed Osbourne clan, in which Ozzie has a trippy dream featuring the mirror-image Osmond family.


Advertising in the Super Bowl must strike a delicate balance: an overly extreme commercial will alienate the public, but an overly cautious ad will sink without a trace.

“We try to find humor that’s broadly appealing,” said Bob Lachky, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president for brand management. “It can be out there and edgy, but as soon as it crosses the line, you’re running a gauntlet.”

Anheuser-Busch will run one timely spot featuring its trademark Clydesdales playing football in a game marred by an instant-replay debacle. The NFL has had several hotly contested playoff games this year that hinged on questionable calls, including one where the league admitted officials made an error that cost the New York Giants a chance to win their game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The ad was shot before that game, Lachky said. He has been working since September to winnow down 25 to 30 contenders to the 11 spots that will run on Sunday.

Other Anheuser-Busch commercials, which are perennial viewer favorites, include a parody of “Tough Man” competitions and a spot where a man tries to woo women with a seashell with “hilarious consequences,” Lachky said. He refused to speculate whether any of this year’s ads would become franchises like the some of the company’s past Super Bowl spots.

“You would always hope you’d have lightning in a bottle like you did with “Frogs,” “Lizards,” “Wassup” or “I love you, man,” he said, “but that’s dangerous to start predicting.”

“If it’s great work it tends to resonate, and the consumer will lead you to what’s a franchise.”

Other advertisers in the big game include the sandwich chain Quizno’s Corp., Levi’s, General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac unit, TMP Worldwide Inc.’s and Reebok International Ltd., which is returning to the game after several years’ absence.

Sitting out the game this year, as with most years, will be Reebok’s arch competitor Nike Inc., whose commercials are almost always a hit with viewers. Nike did, however, score a major hit with an ad during the NFL’s conference championship game last week that depicted a streaker at an English soccer match who eluded a squad of police — all thanks, naturally, to his Nike sneakers.