Super Bowl Ads -- Starring You,1367,57380,00.html

By Dustin Goot

Every year, Super Bowl advertisers try to make a splash with new, edgy ad concepts.

This Sunday, in addition to the usual cast of beer-pitching frogs and dot-com monkeys, marketers will experiment with the form of the ad itself, responding to nascent interactive television applications that allow new promotional opportunities.

Wireless companies, for instance, are setting up games and contests that allow viewers to interact with the game using phones. In the AT&T Wireless Super Bowl Trivia Challenge, participants can receive and answer trivia questions by text messages on an AT&T phone. An on-air tie-in has contestants tune in to the pre-game show to be quizzed about “a classic Super Bowl moment.”

SprintPCS is also co-sponsoring a promotion, called Adbowl, in which its customers can score Super Bowl commercials on a one-to-five scale by using a special menu on wireless Web-enabled handsets. (Votes can also be cast at an Adbowl website maintained by ad agency McKee Wallwork Henderson.)

ABC’s Enhanced TV application is another type of interactive television gaining acceptance as a marketing vehicle. It requires fans to watch the game while logged into a companion website.

Sponsored by Hanes, ABC’s Super Bowl program has several components, including pre-game trivia sessions, an in-game fantasy competition and prompts to rate ads as they air on TV. Prize packages for the contests feature such booty as Hanes tagless T-shirts.

These little schemes are not likely to be put in the same category of marketing innovation as, say, Apple’s “1984” commercial to launch the Macintosh. But they mark a shift in advertising models as marketers adapt to new technologies that affect the way people watch television.

In particular, advertisers are losing faith in traditional 30-second and 60-second spots to get their message across because of the fast-forward and ad-skipping functions on video-on-demand services and personal video recorders.

ABC’s Tim Pernetti said that Hanes was interested in sponsoring the enhanced TV activities because they wanted “something different they could bring to users and viewers with their brand on it.”

The search for novel branding approaches is also producing new technologies.

Sprint’s Adbowl promotion will be the first U.S. deployment of a method called WAP-push, which allows users who opt in to automatically receive a page on their wireless Web browser timed to a specific event. In this case, a voting menu appears when new ads can be scored.

Princeton Video Image, the company that brought us the famous first-down line in football telecasts, has devised a technique for superimposing product placements on syndicated TV shows. Thus, the cast of TV’s Friends could drink Aquafina water or Starbucks coffee.

However, Kirt Gunn, who runs an interactive ad agency called Cylo, said that any interactive promotions taking place today would be “a very primitive experiment” compared to the marketing techniques we will see in the future.

As interactive applications become more sophisticated and rely more directly on the television rather than secondary devices like phones and PCs, Gunn predicts advertising will become linked to programming in a more “organic” way. A future Super Bowl telecast, for example, might allow viewers to order a Raiders jersey through their remote.

Gunn also imagines a bigger role for long-form advertising — a one-hour video about a new car, for instance, that could be downloaded from a VOD server or stored on a personal video recorder.

“(Current) advertising is interruptive in nature,” Gunn said. “I think advertising will evolve to be a complementary part of programming.”