Super Bowl ads get lost in the sauce


Star-Ledger Staff

With the Super Bowl over, one big question remains — and it has nothing to do with Janet Jackson’s breast.

ALAN SEPIN WALL ON HALF TIME HIJINKS PAGE 17 Did anyone notice the ads? 

Advertisers spend $2.3 million for 30-second spots during the Super Bowl, which traditionally pulls the biggest television audience of the year. CBS estimates more than 89 million people watched the game on Sunday.

Yet, when it came to this year’s ads, viewers couldn’t help but ask, “Where’s the beef?” There was no Monday morning catch-phrase, nothing that got chortles at every water cooler. Instead,, which had a previous high of 20,000 hits in one day, logged more than 200,000 hits with its close-up of Jackson’s partly exposed bod.

“A lot of advertisers should be happy if people are talking about Janet Jackson and not their commercials,” said Ron Berger, CEO of Euro RSCG New York, which represents Volvo, Intel and Evian. “In 15 years, it was the weakest group of ads I’ve ever seen.”

He singled out Budweiser’s ad with the flatulent horse as “frat humor — and bad frat humor.”

Super Bowl ads are a way to get people talking, to cement an image in the public’s mind. For years, Master Lock’s entire ad campaign was one Super Bowl ad, with a lock shot by a bullet. The Apple ad of a Soviet fashion show, with big women in identically shapeless outfits stomping down a runway, helped build the brand. And Electronic Data Systems’ ad with tough cowboys herding cats achieved cult status.

“One spot in the Super Bowl can build a brand overnight,” said Mark Stewart, chief strategy officer for Universal McCann, which did the MasterCard Homer Simpson spot.

The question is, did the flashing during this year’s halftime show detract from the selling? Did it make a difference at all?

It did to Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Calling the partial exposure of Jackson’s breast “deplorable,” Powell promised a “thorough and swift” investigation into the incident.

“I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show,” Powell said. “Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt.”

 The show was produced by MTV Networks, like CBS a unit of media conglomerate Viacom. At the end of the song “Rock your Body,” singer Justin Timberlake, of boy band N’Sync fame, tugged a piece of fabric off Jackson’s chest, and her breast — partially obscured by a nipple “pastie” — popped out.

“The half-time show is seen as a self-contained spectacle unto itself,” Stewart said. “What advertisers are concerned with is the number of people who watched the game.”

The anti-smoking American Legacy Foundation ran an ad about a fictitious company that makes ice-pops with shards of glass embedded in them. The ad, which parodied the tobacco industry’s stance that their product may be dangerous, but it’s only for adults, gave viewers a Web address to visit.

The site,, got 7,700 hits per second Sunday night, said Chris Cullen, the foundation’s executive vice president of marketing and communications. The foundation’s site,, “which you have to work pretty hard to get to from,” got 229,922 hits, Cullen said.

“We are very happy,” he said. “The game delivered.”

Ellen Simon can be reached at (973) 392-1695 or esimon@starled