CBS gives free air time after Super Bowl snafu

March 03, 2010 3:25 PM

Pantsless hullabaloo in Super Bowl leads to Dockers getting three spots in NCAA tourney.

By Brian Steinberg,

Talk about getting caught with your pants down. After running back-to-back ads in the Super Bowl utilizing the same creative theme — people walking about without any trousers — CBS has agreed to give one of the marketers involved additional ad time to make up for the gaffe, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Dockers’ Super Bowl ad featured men traipsing about without britches, while signaling to male viewers they ought to grow up and “wear the pants.” Oddly, the ad was preceded by a commercial from online job site CareerBuilder that sported office workers taking the concept of casual Fridays to a strange extreme — walking around the workplace in their underwear. Of possible concern: The placement of the two commercials could blur distinctions in consumers’ minds.

“The fact the theme of not wearing pants is similar in both, and the fact that they ran back-to-back, would make it more confusing for consumers to remember who to attribute each piece of creative to,” said Stacey Shepatin, director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Hill Holliday.

Dockers expressed concern, according to a person familiar with the situation, so CBS has allocated the Levi, Strauss & Co. apparel brand three 30-second spots during the NCAA men’s basketball championships. CBS declined to comment, but in a statement, the network said, “The feedback we received from the client was that they were pleased with the ad’s performance.” A spokeswoman for CareerBuilder did not return phone calls seeking comment

Executives at Dockers “were somewhat disappointed that we ran immediately after the CareerBuilder spot, given the visuals were similar, though we definitely felt the spots were very different,” said Jennifer Sey, vice president of global marketing, for Dockers.

Ms. Sey declined to comment on whether CBS offered new ad inventory in exchange for the Super Bowl placement. While the company is happy with results from the Super Bowl advertising, she said, “the agreements we made with our network advertising partner are confidential, but we are constantly in discussion with the network about strategies. Those discussions are ongoing.”

A hullabaloo over doffed pantaloons in a Super Bowl spot seems out of place, but the emergence of one sheds light on some of the arcane practices surrounding the running of TV commercials. TV networks deliberately screen commercials for outsize claims, unproven allegations against competitors, decency standards and other criteria. But they rarely make certain the theme and creative elements in one are completely different from others that may air in the same commercial break.

Instead, TV networks usually take care not to place ads from rivals in the same ad break. Ads hyping Coke and Pepsi products never run near each other, for example, nor do ads for cereals from Kellogg and General Mills. Networks take particular pains to avoid placing ads from rival car makers in proximity to each other, though sometimes the addition of commercials from local stations, often rife with spots from regional dealerships, makes the task extremely difficult to accomplish.

Trying to weed out ads with similar creative ideas might be an insurmountable task. Would viewers get confused by consecutive ads featuring any number of usual-suspect ad elements such as animated characters, dissatisfied housewives or ditzy frat boys? Are there enough commercials in existence today that don’t use these elements that could be used to buffer those that do?

“I don’t know of any specific policy that talks about [creative themes] being separated,” said Hill Holliday’s Ms. Shepatain. “Most of it is by category separation. My guess is that, in this situation, [CBS] looked at a job-market category versus an apparel category and said, ‘It shouldn’t be a problem.'”

For its part, Dockers said the Super Bowl ad was a success, based on measures it has for increases in numbers of “fans” the brand has on Facebook and followers on Twitter; number of searches via Google around the time the ad aired on TV; and traffic to its website, among other factors, said Ms. Sey. “These, to us, are signals that our consumers were engaged,” she said. “We’re really pleased with sales we are starting to see in the dot-com space.”

If Dockers did receive additional ad inventory in exchange for its Super Bowl placement, the move is not in keeping with typical TV-network procedure. Networks will give additional ad time, also known as “make-goods,” to clients when the shows they ran ads in fell short of predetermined ratings guarantees. CBS’s broadcast of Super Bowl shattered viewership records, drawing 106.5 million people, according to Nielsen, beating the network’s 1983 airing of the season finale of M*A*S*H.

The cost of a 30-second ad in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament typically runs several hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million, depending on the proximity of the advertising to the championship games. Meanwhile, CBS sought between $2.5 million and $3 million for a 30-second ad in this year’s Super Bowl broadcast.