Laughs alone not enough to win Super Bowl ad battle

By Michele Gershberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Super Bowl commercials often try to tickle the funny bone, but advertisers might not be laughing this year if the high-priced spots fail to impact consumers.

Humor alone is not the winning strategy for ads during this year’s National Football League championship, because too often viewers remember the joke but not the product, Kevin Clancy, chief executive of Massachusetts-based Copernicus Marketing Consulting, told Reuters.

Clancy said his company found only 7 percent of last year’s Super Bowl ads communicated a product message consumers could remember.

“You wonder what’s going on in the boardrooms. Humor has dominated the Super Bowl for the last five years, so to use more humor — I don’t think that would be any breakthrough,” Clancy said.

“If you are going to use humor, do you have a humorous spot that communicates a clear and compelling message about the brand?”

The Super Bowl, to be played Feb. 1 in Houston, Texas, is one of the most-watched U.S. television events, and corporate titans often debut their advertising agencies’ best work in commercials during the game.

The view that straight humor won’t ring cash registers should concern advertisers who have shelled out an average of $2.4 million for each 30-second slot. CBS, which is owned by Viacom , is estimated to have sold 85 percent of the network’s commercial time for the game.

U.S. companies, hoping to lure consumers during a fragile economic recovery and fierce competition, are ready to pay more for that exposure as regular television ratings decline. But they face far more pressure from investors to show that ad dollars are being well spent.

Much of the creative work for this year’s game-time commercials is still in production or awaiting final selection by corporate marketing officers, but few are expected to abandon the punchline.

For brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos , one of the biggest buyers of Super Bowl ad time with five minutes worth of commercials this year, humor remains key to a marketing strategy built on the image of good times and hipness prized by its target market, mainly men in their 20s and 30s.

“Humor has been very successful for us in the way we deliver our messages,” Dennis Galati, director of creative development at Anheuser-Busch, told Reuters. “People out there still want to be entertained, they still want to laugh … and this is one of the ways we do reach our consumers. They remember the spots because of the humor.”

Anheuser-Busch scored last year with four of the five most popular Super Bowl ads as rated by newspaper “USA Today,” including a zebra referee trying to call a football game between its trademark Clydesdale horses.

Galati said commercials would center on its Budweiser and Bud Light beer brands, some of them showing how consumers “go to great lengths” to get their Bud.




Humor is still considered to be a winning tactic when it shows the superiority of the product or service being offered, in addition to being truly funny.

One favorite ad for marketers and consumers last year was a spot by Omnicom agency BBDO for delivery company FedEx . In a spoof of the movie “Castaway”, a tenacious deliveryman is rescued after years on a deserted island. He delivers his sealed package to the correct address and discovers it contained a satellite phone, fishing rod and water filter.

The problem, Clancy said, is that the vast majority of commercials no longer give people a reason to prefer Brand X over Brand Y. Many use a formula where about 27 seconds of unrelated comedy is followed by a three-second reference to the product, producing guffaws, but little brand recall, he said., a popular Internet site for job listings, said its new ads would stress the urgency of changing one’s job to build a career and a life. The company’s past Super Bowl ads may not have ranked high after the game, but company executives say they met the challenge of capturing market share.

“Last year, we did a spot of ‘Blue Collar. White Collar. No Collar’ reaching out to hourly and skilled workers. Now they’re 20 percent of our business,” said Jeff Taylor, founder and chief executive at will air two new spots by Interpublic ad agency Deutsch Inc. during the game, one of them highlighting “that feeling when you get the right match” with a job, Taylor said.

“Our most successful Super Bowl commercial was ironic,” he said. “It’s not only that it’s fun and energetic, but thought-provoking. This is your career here, and we take that very seriously.”

Copyright 2004, Reuters News Service