More Super Bowl marketers shoot high-def ads

By Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY

Super Bowl viewers with high-definition TVs this year will see every bead of sweat on Bud Light bottles as clearly as those on the players.

The game has aired in ultrasharp HD since 2000, but Super Bowl XL on ABC will be the first in which the number of HD ads crosses the 50-yard line.

“We expect more than half the ads to run in HD,” says Ed Erhardt, ABC head of sports ad sales. Last year, 10 of the more than 30 minutes of ads were HD.

Among this year’s are the first HD Super Bowl ads from Anheuser-Busch, the largest advertiser, with five minutes.

   Comparing HDTV sales  

As more consumers snap up HDTV sets, advertisers are adopting often more costly and complex HD. “High-def continues to grow in popularity, and we want our consumers to see our … ads in the highest-quality format,” says Marlene Coulis, A-B head of brand management.

At the end of 2005, about 16 million U.S. households had at least one HD-capable TV, according to Leichtman Research Group. Many more are being sold this month. “In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, there’s a lot of promotions,” says NPD Group electronics analyst Ross Rubin.

Advertisers know a lot of viewers will be gathered in front of those fancy new TVs. “Our research shows that for events like the Super Bowl, (groups) are often gathering in the home of an HDTV owner,” says Brian Woods, chief marketing officer for Ameriquest Mortgage, which will have two HD ads for the second year.

Super Bowl regular FedEx is switching to HD this year to ensure a “seamless transition” from the game to commercials, says ad director Steve Pacheco.

“When you’re watching a high-def broadcast, and you see a (standard) commercial come on, it looks like someone put a sheet over your television,” says commercial producer Dave Morrison. They also rarely fill the wide HD screen, leaving bands on each side.

On the other hand, “When you look at HD ads on regular TV, they still look terrific,” says Pat Portela of post-production firm Nice Shoes.

But even with all the HD hype, there are still obstacles. Depending on the filming and post-production techniques, the ads can cost up to 15% more to produce.

And in HD, flaws are also supersharp. “In high-def, you see every detail: every wrinkle, every pimple and every blemish,” Portela says. Makeup artists have to be more precise with their work, and set designers have to fix every paint chip.

For the Super Bowl, where advertisers are spending an average of $2.4 million for a 30-second slot, the added costs are worth it, Pacheco says. “The Super Bowl is one of the few programming choices where people watch the commercials.”