Buyers Bearish on '07 Super Bowl Ads, Prof Says

Newswise — When the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts run onto the field at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium for Super Bowl XLI, each will have a strategy to win the big game. And along with those NFL teams, a number of corporations are betting up to $2.6 million per 30-second advertisement that their strategy also will be a winning one, according to a University of Delaware professor with expertise in Super Bowl advertising.

“We know that one team will win and one will lose, but there will also be winners and losers in the high stakes competition among the companies that bought TV’s most expensive ad time,” John Antil, associate professor of business administration, said. “We know the teams involved, but we still do not know all the companies who will be gambling they have the best strategy.”

Antil said this has been an unusual year for Super Bowl ads. He said pre-game publicity is muted, with some companies not even letting it be known they will be in the broadcast and others unwilling to offer a hint of what their ads will contain. “Given that one of the main reasons for advertising on the Super Bowl is to take advantage of the all the pre- and post-game publicity, it is surprising that so many have forgone the hype,” he said.

In addition, with only a week to go, CBS still had some advertising units that it needed to sell. Though not unusual to have some time left to be sold, it appears that this year has been more of a challenge for CBS to sell the high priced spots, especially those in the less desirable fourth quarter, Antil said.

“Some companies prefer to take a risk and wait until late in hopes of getting a much better deal. Depending on the number of units available, a company might be able to get a spot for $2 million, or even less,” Antil said, adding that if CBS cannot sell all of its units for a reasonable price, it could end up using the time itself to promote its own programs instead of alienating other buyers by offering too large a discount.

“Buying Super Bowl time is unlike any other advertising purchase and it is a very complicated process that involves considerable negotiation, risk and gamesmanship,” Antil said.

Even with publicity low, several Super Bowl advertisers have been getting considerable attention, although not all the buzz was what the company had sought. “Nationwide Insurance let out the details of their ad and perhaps wished they had not,” Antil said, explaining that the spot features “wannabe” rap singer Kevin Federline, the former husband of singer Britney Spears, as a fast food restaurant worker who in his dreams sees himself a star but in real life is being yelled at by his boss. The ad has been found offensive by some, including the National Restaurant Association, which called it “a strong and direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry.”

“Though some say that any publicity is good publicity, it may not apply here since the implication is that these workers will be encouraged to avoid retaining Nationwide Insurance,” Antil said.

More recently has been the master of pre game publicity, Antil said, adding that unlike all other advertisers, they have taken advantage of stricter censorship following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” by intentionally trying to air the most provocative commercial. GoDaddy founder and chief executive officer Bob Parsons keeps interested parties up to date on his blog, which chronicles each failed attempt to get an ad approved. No doubt related to GoDaddy’s preference for risqué ads, their ad agency quit the account over “creative differences.”

A new twist has been added to the creative process this year with consumer-developed ads, perhaps in the spirit of YouTube and other such web sites. Three companies are airing spots that have various levels of consumer input. Frito Lay appears to be the only one showing the actual ad created by a consumer, although the finalists were done by experienced filmmakers and appear very professional. General Motors opened its contest only to college students who were asked to submit concepts for a Chevrolet ad that will then be produced by one of its agencies, and the NFL also invited fans to pitch their ideas for “the best Super Bowl commercial ever.”

Though there are still several unknown sponsors, the usual suspects will return once again. Powerhouse Super Bowl advertiser Anheuser Busch will again have the largest presence with 10 spots, which Antil said will likely be among the most entertaining given the experience of the brewer and its agencies who have developed “a tried and true formula that normally includes a surprise ending that leaves viewers laughing out loud.”

The cola wars will once again be fought during the broadcast. In a somewhat surprising move, Coca-Cola will resume advertising on the Super Bowl after a 10-year absence, Antil said, noting that Coke’s rival, Pepsi, has been a dominant force in recent Super Bowls, not only buying several spots but also having considerable success with consumers by having many of the most likeable ads.

“It is a risky decision by Coke to go head to head once again against the perennial favorite,” Antil said. “Pepsi has again taken a dominant presence by sponsoring the half-time show and buying three spots.” He said Coke is taking a risk by using 60 of its 90 seconds to broadcast a previously viewed “video game” spot instead of creating a new ad designed with the Super Bowl in mind. He said that a Pepsi repeat of previous successes, as gauged by USA Today’s AdMeter, could result in an embarrassment for Coke.

Three new companies will be joining the competition, all a bit of a surprise, Antil said. Garmin, the maker of navigation devices for cars, will have a humorous spot, and King Pharmaceuticals will focus on the dangers of high blood pressure but might not directly promote its Altace drug. Drug companies have not done particularly well in Super Bowl consumer ratings since many believe that the category does not fit well with the fun atmosphere of the big game, he said.

Another “newbie” is, which will be promoting to businesses its ability to provide sales leads. “This is another controversial area since they are not targeting the vast majority of viewers, but that small fraction of business executives that might be interested in securing sales leads,” Antil said, adding, “But other business to business marketers have claimed to be very happy with their results even though they know that their message has no relevance to most viewers.”

Antil’s Super Bowl game notes

“¢ CBS is happy with the Chicago-Indianapolis match-up since it is expected to be very popular among viewers. But unlike other sport championship games, especially baseball’s World Series, the teams that make the Super Bowl have much less impact on TV ratings because the game itself is a major attraction completely apart from which teams are competing.

“¢ Many viewers will probably be disappointed that CareerBuilder ends its successful and popular chimp campaign in favor of new spots that focus on things people hate about their jobs.

“¢ Most sports programming, especially football and hockey, is believed to be dominated by a male audience, while the Academy Awards is seen as a program favored by women. This is a myth, with far more women watching the Super Bowl. In the highly coveted 18-49 age group, one study showed that 19.3 million women watched the 2005 Super Bowl, while in the same year only 12.1 million women viewed the Academy Awards. Some believe that the female target audience may become more popular with advertisers in the future as the male stereotype fades away.

“¢ Why so expensive? One of the main reasons companies pay as much as $2.6 million for 30 seconds is that the Super Bowl is the only true mass media outlet available today. If you want to reach a very large audience of males and females, young and old, the Super Bowl is the only game in town.

“¢ The NFL controls more of the broadcast than many would guess. The league determines how many ads the networks are allowed to sell (normally 59 or 60 spots) and now retains complete control over the half time show. The league determines the cost, sells the sponsorship and oversees the production itself. In the past, controversial messages and ads that promoted gambling and political views were prohibited, but now the NFL is much more concerned with censoring ads that are not consistent with a family show.

“¢ Advertisers and TV networks are becoming increasingly concerned about TiVo and similar digital video recorder technology. These new devices have changed viewing habits by making it so easy to record shows to be shown at a later time, and permitting viewers to skip the commercials. In the case of the Super Bowl, however, these devices might actually increase the value of the ads since nearly everyone watches the Super Bowl live and those who record the broadcast likely will watch the ads over and over.