The Super Bowl's Super Ads

As Ad Prices Rise, Companies Push to Grab Viewers’ Attention

There are many Americans who will tune into the biggest football game of the year not for the Pittsburgh-Seattle matchup, but for the commercials that will air.

From the beloved to the controversial, some Super Bowl commercials remain etched in American memory for years. Even many of those too young to have seen the ad first air are familiar with the Coke commercial featuring football player Mean Joe Green throwing his shirt to a young fan. Budweiser beer ads, which have often pushed the propriety envelope in the past, also tend to live in infamy.

Companies are banking on the fact that these Super Bowl commercials will stick in the memories of the game’s 90 million viewers. Advertisers are paying a record $2.5 million for a single 30-second spot — up from $2.4 million last year. A 30-second prime-time spot during the Olympics costs about $700,000.

This year, the experts expect big things from little known company, Nationwide Insurance, which is is debuting with an interesting ad featuring Fabio.

“I can’t believe it’s him,” said David Riley, who writes about advertising and marketing for Businessweek magazine.” If he does for this what he did for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. & Insurance is something people don’t want to think about. If you can get name awareness, which is a big part of what we’re try to do, you’ve got a home run.”

For his part, Fabio said that he had to sit still for 5 1/2 hours while makeup artists made him into an 85-year-old man for the commercial.

“They made me look like a T-Rex,” he said.

Fabio also said that he encountered some trouble while steering the gondola that was used in the commercial.

“Everybody over there takes it for granted because I’m from Italy, but actually we almost sank the gondola,” he said. “We are doing a commercial for Nationwide Insurance.”

Battle for Originality

But the experts say that Burger King poses some stiff competition. It will run a new commercial featuring cover girl Brooke Burke along with 92 singing and dancing “Whopperettes” dressed as burgers, lettuce and tomatoes. The ad will be available for download onto Sprint cell phones.

“It’s entertaining enough,” said Riley. “I have high hopes for the Burger King ad.”

“I think it will be the most talked-about ad of the Super Bowl,” said Rosemarie Ryan, co-president of J. Walter Thompson ad agency.

Ryan and Riley said the Burger King ad seemed to be the most original of all the commercials — many of which feature celebrities like P. Diddy, who is doing a Diet Pepsi commercial; and Jessica Simpson, who is singing on a new Pizza Hut ad.

The Diddy and Simpson ads are predicable, but will succeed because they use popular music and intriguing celebrities, Riley said.

He gave the Diet Pepsi ad an “Eight out of 10. It’s got a lot of good ingredients. It’s got P. Diddy. It’s got rap. & It sells the product. People will remember it. I am not sure they will remember Fabio.”

Toyota is also airing its first-ever bilingual ad for a hybrid car. Riley said this showed that the car industry was taking the Hispanic market seriously.

For all the companies, the cost is high, but it pays off.

“You get a chance to show your best and brightest on the Super Bowl,” Ryan said. “Companies keep paying more each year.”