Super Bowl Ads: Some Suit Up, Some Don't

By Brian Morrissey

The Super Bowl, advertisers’ annual opportunity to reach nearly half of all Americans in one shot, promises to have a fair representation from Internet and technology companies, although a few previous advertisers have chosen a seat on the sidelines.

After the dot-com boom, which saw Internet startups like and fritter away millions on SuperBowl ads in 1999 and 2000, the majority of the Super Bowl’s advertisements have again been snapped up by traditional heavyweights, such as Anheuser-Busch and Pepsi. Anheuser-Bush alone has snapped up 10 of the 61 in-game advertisements that are expected to fetch ABC up to $2.2 million each.

Online job site Monster, a division of TMP Worldwide (Quote, Company Info), and its rival HotJobs, now a part of Yahoo! (Quote, Company Info), have both said they will air commercials at Super Bowl XXXVII on Jan. 26, although Monster has scaled back its commitment to just one spot compared to the two it ran last year. (One of Monster’s spots was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani thanking Americans for their support in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.)

Both Monster and HotJobs said the game is worth the investment, pointing to the surge in traffic enjoyed in the days after the game, when many jobseekers are pushed to make good on New Year’s resolutions to find a better job. They also tout the unique branding opportunity the game offers.

This will mark the fifth straight year the rivals have advertised during the year’s most-watched TV event, expected to draw about 130 million viewers.

ABC’s decision to sell an unusually large amount in the upfront market this summer, as well as an incipient ad market recovery, have helped ramp up demand (and price) for commercial slots in this year’s telecast. ABC is reportedly charging between $2 million and $2.2 million per 30 seconds, up from last year’s $1.8 million asking price.

The TV advertising business has been doing well lately, recovering from a slump brought on by the shaky economy. According to recent estimates by ad agency Universal McCann, network TV advertising will grow 7 percent this year to $15.3 billion.

Some tech firms, however, have chosen to sit on the sidelines. Last year’s halftime sponsor, online brokerage E-Trade, has not re-upped for this year’s game, and company spokesperson Lisa Smith said the company had not decided whether to buy a commercial. AT&T Wireless will take its place as halftime sponsor. The wireless carrier used last year’s Super Bowl to reveal itself as the force behind the perplexing mLife campaign, airing five commercial spots.

Yahoo!, which last year ran its talking-dolphin ad at the end of the first quarter, said it would skip the game, only running the HotJobs spot. AOL is also taking a pass this year, after running a spot during last year’s game.

Likewise, EDS, which won wide praise for its classic cat-herding commercial in 2000 and its running with the squirrels ad in 2001, said it would not advertise during the game for the second year in a row.

Last year, EDS decided to focus on the Olympics, which began a little more than a week after the Super Bowl. In 2003, EDS spokesperson Kristen Dobrowolski said the company would concentrate on reaching a business audience in the likely places, such as The Wall Street Journal and the PGA golf tournament.

“Running in the Super Bowl is a place to make a statement,” she said, “but the tradeoff with a steady stream of information covering a larger portion of the year is one we don’t want to make this year.”