Love, Wisdom and Dentures Star in Super Bowl Ads
By Michele Gershberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Three things to remember when watching this Sunday’s Super Bowl: You can’t munch on potato chips without your teeth, finding a new job should feel like falling in love, and sometimes the underdog prevails.
These are just a sampling of the themes for commercials to air on the Viacom Inc. -owned CBS network during the big game on Feb 1. Advertising executives, some still laboring over final edits, said they would use everything from humor to romance to produce show-stopping ads during television’s most-watched event.
“The audience is not looking for a lecture — they’re looking to be entertained or touched emotionally in some way,” Ted Sann, chief creative officer at advertising agency BBDO New York, told Reuters.
Super Bowl ads, which cost an average of $2.3 million each to air this year, have long served to let top ad firms strut their stuff. But the competition to create a memorable spot is fiercer than ever as advertisers face more pressure from Wall Street to show a return on their marketing budgets.
Omnicom Group’s BBDO has cornered a 20 percent chunk of Super Bowl ad-making for clients like PepsiCo Inc., FedEx Corp. and Visa during this year’s National Football League championship in Houston, Texas, between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers.
“This is a very different way of watching television. It’s a party atmosphere and what works better at a party — a good joke or a sad story?” Sann said.
Nearly 30 advertisers, from Super Bowl stalwarts like brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. to big game newcomers Staples Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co., have bought 30-second spots.
A glimpse of this year’s ads promises chortles, smirks and a few poignant moments.
An elderly couple stoops to dirty tricks to get their hands on Lay’s potato chips from Frito-Lay, a unit of Pepsi. Just when it looks like “grandpa” has it in the bag, “grandma” slyly holds up his dentures. The spot was created by BBDO.
Online job listing site Monster.com shows how the elation of getting a new job is like riding high on romance, while Internet travel site Expedia Inc. has a husband rerouting a New York theater excursion after imagining himself attacked by clowns. Both ads were created by Interpublic Group’s Deutsch Inc.
Staples parodies a stingy administrator who extorts sweets from co-workers in exchange for office supplies. His comeuppance comes when an employee realizes it’s easier to buy the goods at Staples, and brings in a Mafia-type tough to make the point.
STAKES HIGH, RECALL LOW
Straying from the laugh track, former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali teaches his life’s lesson — that a newcomer can shake up the world — in a spot for IBM promoting the Linux computer programing system.
“The way you differentiate yourself is to have a different tone, a different creative feel in the midst of the guffaws,” said Deirdre Bigley, vice president of advertising at IBM. “I think we are going to grab attention by being more elegant.”
Grabbing attention will be all the more important this year as prices hit record highs for a 30-second spot. With television viewing for regular programs, and commercials, on the decline, that 30 seconds needs to pack a bigger punch.
“It’s quite ruthless. It’s almost like an audition,” said David Droga, global executive creative director at Publicis, which produced a first-ever Super Bowl spot for Procter & Gamble’s Charmin toilet paper.
“There isn’t the time for people to get to know your ads, to understand them,” he said. “That does put a lot of pressure on everyone involved, but a lot of times that’s when the industry is at its best.”
According to a poll by advertising trade report AdWeek, only 7 percent of people surveyed say they have ever switched to a product based on a Super Bowl ad. The poll questioned close to 1,200 people and was conducted in mid-January.
More than half said Super Bowl ads were of higher quality than ordinary commercials. Ads with the highest level of audience recall touted Budweiser beer and Pepsi-Cola.
This year, alcohol and soft drinks will compete with ads for erectile dysfunction treatments Cialis, from Eli Lilly and Icos Corp., and Levitra, from GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer AG, as they try to chip away market share from Pfizer’s Viagra.
But whatever the product, ad executives and marketers all dream of the coveted Super Bowl spot that will resonate long after the stadium empties and the TV sets cool down.
“Some of the most famous ads of all times ran once in the Super Bowl,” said Droga. “There’s been many that just disappeared. The good ones hang on for a long time.”
© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.