Super Bowl ads: Image is everything

Advertisers become more selective about taking center stage as exposure widens; price secondary.

By Andrew Stein, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) –

Although advertising rates for a 30-second Super Bowl spot on CBS hit a record $2.3 million, companies don’t see the price as the main obstacle to appearing on marketing’s biggest stage.

“There’s a saying that ‘[networks] sell the Super Bowl two or three times,’ because a company will decide its message is not good enough and pull out,” said Ed Erhardt, president of ad sales for ABC Sports and ESPN, which ran last year’s Super Bowl.

“The price of the ads is secondary,” he added.

Super Bowl XXVIII, for those of you counting, will mark the 20th anniversary of Apple Inc.’s seminal ad showing a woman breaking a PC screen, which showed what a Super Bowl ad can do for a brand. Increasingly, companies that feel their messages don’t stack up, will bail out rather than risk a flop.

This year, for example, DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge brand pulled out of plans to sponsor a halftime “Lingerie Bowl” and Procter & Gamble held a contest among six divisions before a winner emerged for the consumer products maker’s first Super Bowl ad ever.

“Companies certainly back out [of advertising] when they feel their message won’t resonate with customers or the media,” said Erhardt.

Incidentally, a spokesman for Apple Computer said the company doesn’t have any plans to advertise during the Super Bowl to mark the ad’s 20th anniversary, but he did inquire how many ad spots were left.

CBS Sports spokeswoman Leslie Ann Wade told CNN/Money there are a “handfull” of advertising spots left for the Feb. 1 game.

What’s new?

A message that often resonates with customers is one for a new product or service, and the Super Bowl remains the pinnacle of media exposure for companies with something to announce ,says Peter Gardiner, chief media officer with media buying firm Deutsch Inc.

“$2.3 million is a large out of pocket expense, but there’s no other place where a single ad can reach 40 percent of the country,” he said.

That was Hanes rationale when it decided to run an ad during last year’s game to lunch its tag-less undershirt line and chose not to buy a spot this year, according to company spokeswoman Cindy Riccio.

“We were pleased with our ad for the tag-less shirts last year, but we don’t have anything new this year,” she said, referring to an ad during 2003’s game featuring Jackie Chan and Michael Jordan.

“When we come up with something else, the Super Bowl is something we will definitely revisit,” she added.

P&G goes for the soft touch

Procter & Gamble wanted good reviews for its first-ever Super Bowl ad, so it held an internal contest among six of its products: Charmin toilet paper, Crest toothpaste, Pringles potato chips, heartburn reliever Prilosec OTC, a new product, Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash, and Swiffer cleaning supplies.

Charmin emerged as the winner and the P&G ad will carry the tag line “Softer for your end zone.” The spot is meant to introduce the brand’s new packaging design, featuring a cartoon bear, according to P&G spokeswoman Robyn Schroeder.

The ad will feature an animated bear interacting with football players, including a quarterback bending over to grab the snap from the center, only to be distracted by a piece of toilet paper, rather than the traditional towel, hanging from the center’s waistband.

P&G’s Schroeder said the company, which buys about 10 percent of all U.S. advertising spots, decided to advertise in the Super Bowl for the first time this year after it was approached by Viacom, the corporate parent of network CBS.

“We have a partnership with Viacom and as part of a broader deal we decided to advertise during the game with our Charmin brand, which we think is the best advertising fit,” she said.

Lingerie and trucks, what’s not to like?

DaimlerChysler found itself with a little too much attention over its decision to sponsor the “Lingerie Bowl” pay-per-view halftime show, featuring models in lingerie playing football.

Chrysler’s Dodge brand has now resigned itself to a single 30-second spot showing a new vehicle during the game after backing out of the Lingerie Bowl amid objections from dealers and customers.

Chrysler had planned to advertise during the game before it backed out of the Lingerie Bowl sponsorship, according to Chrysler Group Spokesman James Kenyon.

When asked if Chrysler was interested in buying some of the remaining advertising spots in the game after abandoning the Lingerie Bowl, Kenyon said the company is comfortable where it is.

Glimpse of Halle, Harry or Vin?

One industry that can never generate enough attention before a new product launch is the film business, and movie trailers will have a sizable presence during the Super Bowl. Sony Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. will all run ads during the game, according to Advertising Age .

Those tuning in may get glimpses of Sony’s “Spider Man II,” Touchstone’s “The Alamo,” Universal’s “The Bourne Supremacy,” staring Matt Damon, Warner Bros. “Catwoman” with Halle Berry, or “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” according to Ad Age .

The omnipresent advertiser

Although companies often use the Super Bowl to introduce a product or announce something new, Anheuser-Busch isn’t expected to introduce anything, according to a company spokesman.

“Anheuser-Busch is known as a great advertiser and a good ad can resonate with its consumers for a while,” said ABC Sports’ Erhardt.

The world’s largest brewer bought a total of five minutes of ads scheduled to run during the game, including one spot that may feature a donkey that gets his wish to become a member of a Budweiser Clydesdale horse team, according to Advertising Age .

Another ad, which can be seen on the company’s Web site, features a zebra looking into an instant-replay hood and reviewing the footwork of some horses.

Anheuser-Busch will also run a spot on responsible drinking, one of four ads aimed at tobacco, drug or alcohol education, according to the company spokesman. Another one is by Philip Morris (MO :Research ,Estimates ), the word’s largest cigarette maker.