Super Bowl ads could raise a few eyebrows

By Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY

So much for the much-talked-about “G-rated” Super Bowl. Cialis, maker of an erectile dysfunction (ED) drug, and Unilever’s new Degree for Men deodorant will be showing up with provocative ads for Fox’s airing of Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6.

After the Janet Jackson halftime breast-baring fiasco – and resulting “decency” uproar that enveloped some of the commercials – Fox and the National Football League have been expected to clamp down on anything that could upset 145 million U.S. viewers.

Cialis, the No. 2 ED drug behind Pfizer’s Viagra, has decided to return to the game for a second year, with a 60-second commercial to air in the third quarter, says Leonard Blum, vice president of marketing for Icos, which jointly markets the drug with Eli Lilly.

Cialis’ ad last year attracted some objections – and unintended chuckles – for a warning about possible side effects: “Men who experience an erection for more than four hours should seek immediate medical attention.”

Blum says: “Now that the product has been used by over 4 million men worldwide, there are occasional reports. It’s a very unusual event, but it does require medical attention.”

Food and Drug Administration (news – web sites) ad rules require that possible side effects be stated if Cialis spells out what the drug is for and that it works for 36 hours.

So, yes, the four-hour warning will be back in the new Super Bowl spot by Grey Worldwide. The ad will show mature couples playfully grooving to the 1963 Ronettes song Be My Baby.

After Cialis bought into the game last year, it was joined by another recently launched ED drug, Levitra, which so far is leaving the field this year to Cialis.

The ads last year caused many red-faced parents to have to answer kids who wanted to know what ED is, notes Pam Scholder Ellen, associate professor of marketing at Georgia State University.

The Super Bowl is “not the time or the place” for ED or condom advertising, she says.

But the game’s huge, predominantly male audience makes it tough to resist as a place to tout Cialis to many of the 30 million U.S. men suffering from ED – and to their wives and girlfriends, counters David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group in Los Angeles. As for the four-hour warning, “That was the best marketing slogan of 2004,” he says.

Unilever, meanwhile, will take aim at 25- to 35-year-old guys with a funky new commercial from Lowe Worldwide featuring action figures.

Part spoof of old GI Joe commercials, part Maxim magazine satire, the 30-second Super Bowl spot shows a “Mama’s Boy” doll being pushed around by his Mama doll. “He never sweats because he doesn’t risk leaving his Mama,” says the spokesman for “Dull Co.” toys. The spot promises future ads featuring his sad-sack doll buddies: “The Wuss” and “The SuckUp.”

The Super Bowl ad buy begins a months-long marketing effort to launch Degree for Men. It includes a Web site devoted to “In-Action” hero dolls that goes online Feb. 5, says to Christopher Luxon, brand development director.

“This is not your generic deodorant advertising where you usually grab a sports star and say, ‘Insert your product here,’ ” Luxon says. “Unilever has been embracing risk.”

His colleague, Allison Harmon, senior manager of integrated marketing, is not worried about their ad running afoul of an indecency backlash. “Janet Jackson wasn’t an ad,” she says.

Fox has three to four spots to sell out of 59 in-game spots and has been getting a record average of $2.4 million per 30-second commercial.

This will be the first time Fox broadcasts the Super Bowl entirely in high-definition.

The network has set a deadline of Monday for marketers to submit HD ads for broadcast and expects at least a dozen commercials to appear in the format.