Super Bowl Ads Seen Back on Their Game This Year

By Adam Pasick

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For advertising agencies looking to score with memorable messages underlined by irreverent humor, the Super Bowl is back as the big game forum of choice, executives say.

In addition to deciding the NFL championship, the Super Bowl has traditionally been the arena for ad agencies to trot out their wildest efforts in front of the biggest television audience of the year, but efforts last year were muted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Last year everyone was in shock,” said Ted Sanns, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO New York — an agency that perennially fields so many Super Bowl ads that the game is often jokingly called “The BBDO Bowl.”

“I think there’s certain kinds of humor and jokes that last year definitely didn’t play; this year there’s a little more room,” said Sanns, who said his agency is working on “roughly six or seven” ads for this year’s game.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., which will again have the most Super Bowl spots with 10, has 25 to 30 spots in production for brands including Budweiser, Bud Lite, Michelob and Michelob Ultra, along with spots that promote moderation. The brewer won’t select the 10 spots to air until about a week before the big game, according to Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing.

Some of the company’s spots for Budweiser were a hit last year, including one viewer favorite involving slippery satin sheets. But an homage to New York City and the victims of Sept. 11, which featured Budweiser’s trademark Clydesdales bowing down before the city skyline, received mixed reviews.

With network television having a record season for advertising sales, a 30-second spot for a Super Bowl commercial is running between $2 million and $2.2 million, Ponturo said. Commercials cost between $1.9 million and $2 million last year, when the Super Bowl was on Fox.


If history is any judge, bulk buyers like Anheuser-Busch often get a discounted rate, although networks and marketers are notoriously mum on the issue. Networks also tend to charge lower rates for commercials late in the game because the Super Bowl is notorious for one-sided blowouts, with last year’s nail-biting win by the New England Patriots over the St. Louis Rams a notable exception.

As of this week, “just north” of 80 percent of the Super Bowl commercial inventory has been sold, according to ABC, the Walt Disney Co.-owned network that is hosting the game this year.

Sources close to ABC said less than 10 of the 30-second spots remain available for sale.

The network is also televising this year’s Academy Awards — sometimes called the “Super Bowl for women” because of the demographics the Oscars pull in — and sources said 30-second spots are currently going for $1.4 million, compared with $1.2 million last year.

“We like to be in big events that shout above the clutter,” said Ponturo. “If we can capture on an exclusive basis the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, which is basically the second-highest program, we cover our bases.”

Other advertisers with spots in the Super Bowl include PepsiCo, which will be promoting its new Sierra Mist drink, and, the TMP Worldwide Inc online job search unit that has outlasted most of dot-coms that flooded the Super Bowl with ads before the bubble burst.

No matter how well established, each advertiser will be looking to make an impact and stand out from the crowd during the top-rated game, which is known almost as much for its commercials as the action on the field.

A study last year by Eisner Communications found that 10 percent of Super Bowl viewers tuned in solely for the ads.

“One of the great things about the Super Bowl is if you’re going to show up, you’ve got to play the game, and you’ve got to get noticed,” BBDO’s Sanns said. “It’s too easy not to.”