Expect bigger, better Super Bowl ads this year



Houston Chronicle

Which Super Bowl ads will hold viewers spellbound this year — a spot for beer, chips or one of two erectile dysfunction treatments?

In the mega TV event known as the Super Bowl, the ads are as big as the game, and much is at stake for advertisers. More than 100 million people are watching, and it’s the one time they really pay attention to commercials.

A Super Bowl ad can become etched in the national psyche, like “Whassup?” or Apple’s 1984 science-fiction-style Macintosh spot that launched intense competition among creative ad teams to do something extraordinary.

Do any of this year’s ads possess the stuff of legends? It’s hard to say because advertisers are increasingly secretive before kickoff.


• Can’t wait for Sunday’s Super Bowl ads?

On Saturday at 9 p.m., KHOU/Channel 11 will air Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials .

• Want to vote on your favorite ad Sunday?

During the game, go to Ad bowl.com to rate each ad.

After the game, go to AOL to vote.


“You can expect great things from Budweiser, Pepsi and Fed-Ex — they’re good every year,” said Bernice Kanner, a marketing columnist for New York Magazine and author of the recently released The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game .

One charming Budweiser ad showsa donkey dreaming of being a Clydesdale. Reebok’s Terry Tate, the “office linebacker” who enforces workplace discipline by tackling, is back from last year. And Homer Simpson puts a funny spin on MasterCard’s “There are some things money can’t buy” series.

Staples will run a 60-second spot about an office supply manager receiving bribes in the form of pastries and starring a “tough guy” character actor with an unforgettable face, Joe Viterelli.

Anheuser-Busch will have the most ads, a total of nine, including the prime spot which airs after kickoff. Titled “Good Dog,” it stars a Border collie and mutt and their different methods of retrieving a Bud Light for their masters.

A Pepsi-Apple iTunes collaboration features 16 real-life teen-agers who were sued by the recording industry for illegal file sharing. The ad’s soundtrack is Green Day’s version of I Fought the Law (and the Law Won) .

The erectile dysfunction ads will be “the game within the game in that they’ll be competing with each other for attention,” said Steve McKee, president of the ad agency McKee Wallwork Henderson and creator of the Ad Bowl, an online site that allows viewers to rate Super Bowl ads.

It is a challenge to create a memorable erectile dysfunction treatment ad, he noted, because all pharmaceutical ads are required to carry safety and risk information.

Frito-Lay’s 2004 Super Bowl ad is generating advance buzz because it pushes the envelope, McKee said, and features an elderly couple getting pretty physical over a bag of chips.

The Super Bowl ad phenomenon — both the anticipation for and cost of the ads — is bigger than ever, according to Kanner.

Thirty-second spots are selling for $2.3 million this year, a jump of 7 percent over last year, although the advertised price is always inflated, Kanner said.

“Nobody really pays that much,” she said. “It’s like buying a car — there’s haggling involved.” The average price may be closer to $1.7 million, she said.

The price depends on how many spots you have — they’re cheaper as a package — Kanner said, “and how good your agency negotiator is.”

Ad costs also hinge on the time slot, she said. It’s higher during the first half of the game, which is more blowout-resistant, making it more likely that everyone is still watching.

Though the primo spot is immediately after kickoff, the smartest buy is right before kickoff, because you’re still paying pregame rates, she said.

As for the preferred tone or style of a Super Bowl ad, there is no set formula, Kanner said. It can be whimsically funny, offensively funny or even moving, like the Budweiser Clydesdales bowing in tribute to the victims of 9/11.

The key ingredient for a Super Bowl ad is to be captivating, McKee said, and should be in the spirit of the game: “The Super Bowl is the world’s biggest party, and people are in a partying mood.”

Last year’s Ad Bowl winner was the FedEx takeoff on the movie Castaway.

The all-time Super Bowl ad champ, according to McKee, is Anheuser-Busch. The company runs many commercials per Super Bowl and uses different agencies, pitting them against each other in pursuit of excellence.

The agency BBDO has created more ads than any other agency by far, Kanner said. “In the industry, the Super Bowl is known as the BBDO Bowl.”

BBDO clients include Pepsi, FedEx, Frito-Lay and Visa.

It’s expensive to advertise during the game, but Kanner said it’s worth it. Typically consumers avoid commercials, but Super Bowl ads have “anticipatory value”and “water-cooler” potential unavailable anywhere else.

Some in the ad world are skeptical.

In terms of a Super Bowl ad’s ability to build brand, “I’ve seen it fall off significantly,” said Kelly O’Keefe, CEO of the marketing firm Emergence. The reason is that with more than 50 30-second spots during the game, “there is too much creative clutter. It’s become a shootout in which more advertisers get shot than win.”

Even the great ads don’t necessarily sell products, he said. Last year, Reebok’s funny spot starring “office linebacker” Terry Tate was a hit, but many consumers could not recall that it was an ad for Reebok, he said.

Super Bowl advertising carries risks, O’Keefe said.

“You’re under tremendous scrutiny. You will face a public flogging in the media if you fail,” he said.

A Holiday Inn Super Bowl spot featuring a transsexual received negative response in the media and within the company, he noted.

There is a real temptation for creative teams to go over the line, O’Keefe said: “There’s so much pressure, and you’ve got 30 seconds to break through the clutter of 50 other ads.”

The smartest Super Bowl ads are those that are tied to another promotion that has a longer duration, O’Keefe said.

An example would be this year’s Super Bowl collaboration between Pepsi and Apple in which it will be announced that coupons for 100 million free downloads of iTunes will be available on Pepsi products.

Jeff Taylor, founder of online job-hunting site Monster.com, swears by the Super Bowl ad.

“The Super Bowl is an amazing vehicle and has been integral to our success,” said Taylor, whose company is in its sixth year of Super Bowl advertising. Its first year it debuted a spot showing children saying, “When I grow up I want to be a ‘yes man,’ ” and the like.

The ad went against the conventional wisdom in that it wasn’t blatantly entertaining.

“We want to make people think,” Taylor said.

O’Keefe hasn’t seen the erectile dysfunction ads but would bet against them being effective. A Super Bowl party environment is “beer-chips-rowdy,” and the spots may not be appropriate for such a social setting, he said.

Paula Garrett, consumer market manager for the erectile dysfunction treatment Cialis, described the ad as tasteful and relaxed: a montage of couples sharing playful and romantic, but not sexual, moments.

The ad for Levitra, Cialis’s rival, stars Mike Ditka and is rumored to be more irreverent.

Why two erectile dysfunction ads?

“It’s a hot new product category,” Kanner said. “Each year we get emerging categories.”

The vast majority of Super Bowl ads are national, but there is room for local advertisers. From kickoff until the end of the post-game show there will be 12 local spots, said Michelle Stiens, KHOU’s director of sales and marketing. Locally paid-for ads include Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, Road Runner, SBC and Dodge.

All ad slots have sold out, Stiens said.