Disregard Downturn -- Dotcom Super Bowl Ads Live


Janis Mara

Despite the dotcom bust, the demise of the Sock Puppet and the advent of TiVO, at least two Internet companies are throwing extravagant amounts of money (and lavish creative) into Super Bowl ads this year.

As the advertiser roster for the Feb. 1 Super Bowl develops, commercials for brick and mortar companies are resuming their traditional dominance, continuing last year’s trend. So far, only two Internet-related entities, Monster.com (Quote, Chart) and America Online, the online arm of Time Warner(Quote, Chart), have closed deals for Super Bowl ads, though a CBS spokeswoman said more are expected.

Monster.com, perhaps the best-known online Super Bowl advertiser, is gearing up a major new ad campaign. The company has no intention of missing the opportunity to pitch the approximately 140 million people CBS expects will watch the game. The company is giving its brand new tagline, “Today’s The Day,” created by its new agency, Deutsch, a workout in three separate :30 spots, one pre-game, and two during.

“The Super Bowl is a perfect buy for Monster,” said Carol Johnson, senior VP of marketing for Monster.com. “First, it overlaps our very broad target audience, men and women 18 to 49 years old. Second, the month of January is one of the largest months for job seekers coming online to look for jobs. And employers post a large number of jobs in January.”

There’s no doubt, Johnson said, Monster’s famed Super Bowl ads drive traffic to its site.

“We will still have a very strong advertising presence online. But we know that after the Super Bowl last year, we had 53,000 resumes posted on the following Monday and then 54,000 on Tuesday, compared to a typical day, which is 22,000,” she said.

So great was the stimulus that at least during one year, other online job sites saw dramatic jumps as well.

Though AOL passed on the Super Bowl last year, this year, the Dulles, Va.-based giant ISP will have three 30-second spots during the game, in the first, second and fourth quarters, as well as two 20-second spots before the game.

AOL, which has been slipping both in membership and public perception in recent years, has revamped its service. AOL 9.0 Optimized launched this year. AOL has created versions for kids and Hispanics, and worked on a version for teens. The company may well see Super Bowl spots as another way of re-establishing the brand.

According to Len Short, executive vice president of brand marketing for AOL, the ads will promote a new product launch. Short declined to supply further details.

While some predict the death of the :30 TV spot because of DVRs (digital video recorders), Monster’s Johnson shrugged off the potential impact of the devices, which make it possible to fast-forward through ads.

“TiVo is gaining a little bit of traction but it’s in the single digits in terms of penetration. [According to TiVo, its total subscriber base is more than one million users.] Part of the Super Bowl is that there are some TV shows you can watch on a delayed basis. But a show like the Super Bowl is something you have to see live to participate in, not to mention the party atmosphere that goes on,” said Johnson.

An analyst also downplayed the effect of TiVo.

“I don’t think TiVo will have much of an effect,” said Gary Stein, a senior analyst with Jupiter Research (owned by Jupitermedia, which also owns this publication). “The Super Bowl is usually watched in a group situation, which discourages the clicking behavior. I don’t imagine TiVo will mess things up too much for Super Bowl.” In fact, Stein said, “the ads are part of it.”

Data from TiVo seem to bear out Stein’s assertion. In what appears a disconcerting disconnect from reality, TiVo said Reebock’s 2003 commercial featuring Terry Tate, a fictitious linebacker, got higher ratings from TiVo users than any action in the game itself.

According to the “TiVo Game Chart,” an analysis of viewer activity during the game, viewership spiked during commercial breaks as TiVo owners replayed their favorite commercials.

Though Super Bowl ads are known for their entertainment value, Stein says what’s important is not so much the content of the ads so much as running them in this super premium venue.

“The ads themselves are almost irrelevant,” said Stein. “The fact that you’re there is the big deal. AOL, for example, is a brand, and the Super Bowl is the place to be if you’re a major brand.” Apparently, there’s cachet in knowing that your company dropped a breath-stopping amount of cash on the ads; it’s estimated that commercials in last year’s Super Bowl went for between $2 million and $2.2 million per 30 seconds.

Being at the Super Bowl is a way to show “you’ve got the money, the chops, the ability to spend,” Stein said.