Advertisers Change Game Plans for Super Bowl


YES, Virginia, and the other 49 states, there is a Super Bowl on Sunday, despite the awful economy. And it appears that NBC will be able to sell all 33 ½ minutes of commercial time the network intends to run in the game, even at a record price estimated to average $3 million for each 30-second spot.

Still, the uncertainties of this challenging year are manifesting themselves in the days before Super Bowl XLIII as advertisers think, rethink — and rethink again — what they intend to do.

The problem is not so much Hamlet-like indecision. Rather, Madison Avenue is worried that its myriad, carefully laid plans will turn out to be inappropriate or unseemly for the unusual national mood of pervasive gloom leavened with a soupçon of hope.

For instance, Hyundai Motor America decided months ago to buy two 30-second commercials in the game, both for the 2010 Hyundai Genesis coupe. But as the financial crisis unfolded, the company began to reconsider that, to perhaps add a spot that would directly address the economy. Such a spot would promote an insurance policy called Hyundai Assurance, which offers car buyers the chance to undo their deals if they lose their jobs.

The idea was “to take advantage of the fact Hyundai has some unusual positioning in the market right now” for reasons that include the insurance policy as well as the lower prices of its cars, said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of the Hyundai agency, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, part of the Omnicom Group.

“These guys do have something to say,” he added. “It’s a question of whether you have the money or not.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Hyundai announced that it had indeed rethought its lineup. There will be one spot in the game for Hyundai Assurance, and one saluting the 2009 Genesis sedan for winning a “car of the year” award.

One spot for the Genesis coupe, with the rock musician Billy Corgan, is being moved to the pregame show, where Hyundai will also run a second spot for Hyundai Assurance along with a second spot for the Genesis sedan. Those three commercials will earn Hyundai a title sponsorship of that program.

In the end, the other spot for the Genesis coupe, featuring the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, “didn’t make the cut,” said Joel Ewanick, vice president for marketing at Hyundai Motor America.

Asked how Mr. Ma could make the inauguration ceremony but not the Super Bowl, Mr. Ewanick laughed and replied that the Ma spot would run instead during the Academy Awards on Feb. 22.

Like Hyundai,, owned by a consortium of media companies like Gannett and McClatchy, took another look at its Super Bowl playbook after the economy worsened last fall.

The goal was to find “what’s the right tone for the current environment,” Carolyn Crafts, vice president for marketing at, said in an interview on Tuesday where she shared the company’s revised plans, while at the same time reflecting that the Super Bowl is typically “a big entertainment event” for viewers regardless of the economic climate.

The 60-second commercial that is buying during the game will take a gentler, more lighthearted approach than the two spots the company ran during the Super Bowl last year. The 2009 commercial will play up the premise that using to buy a new or used car will bolster the buyer’s confidence that he or she is making the best deal.

Typically, the PepsiCo North America Beverages unit of PepsiCo has its lineup of Super Bowl commercials decided well before the game. But on Tuesday, at a news conference in Midtown Manhattan, executives acknowledged their plans for Sunday were still in flux.

The company and its agencies have completed or are finishing many more commercials than can fit into the air time they previously purchased, said Massimo d’Amore, chief executive at PepsiCo North America Beverages.

As a result, “we’re talking to NBC right now,” he added, “to buy more time.” The company originally bought about three to four minutes of commercial time in the game.

One decision has been made: which beverage brands will be advertised during the game. There will be two commercials by the Arnell Group in New York, part of Omnicom, for varieties of SoBe Life Water; one spot will be in 3-D, as part of a promotion for a new film, “Monsters vs. Aliens,” from DreamWorks Animation.

(A 3-D commercial for the film, to be placed by DreamWorks Animation and the Paramount Pictures division of Viacom, will precede the SoBe spot, creating what may be the first “pod,” or cluster, of 3-D commercials during a Super Bowl.)

Other PepsiCo North America Beverages brands to be advertised will be in spots created by the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of another Omnicom agency, the TBWA/Chiat/Day division of TBWA Worldwide. They will be for Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola and Pepsi Max.

For Gatorade, there may be one 60-second or two 30-second spots, part of a new campaign that refers to Gatorade as “G.” Teaser ads in the campaign have drawn considerable comment on blogs and other Web sites.

Concepts for the spot or spots for Gatorade are being tested online, said Julie Hamp, senior vice president at PepsiCo, which is “a new approach” for the company’s Super Bowl ads.

Pepsi-Cola may have more than one commercial, possibly with a spot that features the singers Bob Dylan and Pepsi-Cola is also getting a new campaign, carrying the themes “Refresh everything” and “Every generation refreshes the world.”

More certain are the Super Bowl plans for Pepsi Max, which call for two spots, one 15 seconds and the other 30. There is also a new campaign for that brand, formerly called Diet Pepsi Max.

The PepsiCo beverage executives “are taking every minute they can, right up to the final deadline, to decide what to put in the game,” said John D. Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, a trade publication, who attended the news conference.

“They’ve got a very, very full platter with the range and depth of changes they’re making across the entire beverage portfolio,” which in addition to new campaigns include new brand-names and redesigned packaging.

In another example of how mercurially some marketers are behaving, one Super Bowl advertiser arranged to be interviewed by a reporter on Monday to describe its commercial for this column. But executives at the company had second thoughts and called off the interview.

On the other hand, Anheuser-Busch InBev, which often does not complete its Super Bowl ad plans until a day or two before the game — and has been known to switch beer spots around mere hours before game time — told reporters on Tuesday that its lineup for Sunday was set.

“I think this is it, locked down,” said Bob Lachky, chief creative officer at Anheuser-Busch, listing three commercials for Bud Light; three for Budweiser, all featuring the Clydesdale horses; and one for Bud Light Lime.

The plans call for at least one spot in each quarter, Mr. Lachky said, adding that a commercial for a new brand, Budweiser American Ale, would appear if the game went into overtime.