Super Bowl Ads Sales as Economic Indicator

By STUART ELLIOTTTHE Federal Reserve Board may want to scrutinize another statistic to gauge the health of the economy: demand for ads during Super Bowls.

As Super Bowl XLIV nears on Feb. 7, CBS is already “very close to a sellout,” a spokesman for the network, Dana McClintock, said on Tuesday. He declined to specify how much of the estimated 30 to 35 minutes of paid commercial time in the game was still available.

By contrast, at this point in 2009, when NBC was selling spots to be shown during the broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1, considerably more time remained unsold.

“Last year, time was being sold entering into a recession,” Mr. McClintock said. “This year, it’s being sold apparently coming out of one.”

Another difference is that a year ago, many marketers that bought Super Bowl spots were playing down their participation, fearing that the sour national mood made the usual hoopla seem inappropriate. Now, though, the hyperbole machine is being cranked up by many sponsors as they seek attention for their ad plans.

Although Super Bowl ad mainstays like FedEx, General Motors and Pepsi-Cola have said they will skip this year’s game, several newcomers have signed on, along with advertisers that buy Super Bowl spots irregularly.

They include Boost Mobile; the Census Bureau; Dockers, sold by Levi Strauss; a line of men’s skin care products from Dove, part of Unilever; Electronic Arts; HomeAway, a vacation-rental listing service; Knowledge Generation Bureau, which offers a text-message information service under the KGB brand; Motorola; Pop-Secret popcorn, to be advertised with a sibling Emerald Nuts in a spot being bought by Diamond Foods; the truTV cable channel, owned by Time Warner; and Volkswagen.

“There comes a time to step out of your comfort zone,” said one first-timer, Chris Moss, creative chairman at KGB in New York. “We’re confident we can give viewers something entertaining to watch with a little more standout than the rest.”

The company is deciding which of three commercials it will run in the 30-second slot it has bought during the third quarter, Mr. Moss said. The spots, created by the Brooklyn Brothers in New York, include one featuring two Baldwin brothers, Stephen and William.

Papa John’s International, which has in the past advertised before or after the game, is considering running spots in Super Bowl XLIV as part of an agreement the company has just signed with the National Football League to become its official pizza sponsor.

“We’re still working out details of what we’re going to be doing,” said Andrew Varga, chief marketing officer at Papa John’s in Louisville, Ky. The goal would be to complement the company’s upbeat campaign, carrying the theme “Papa’s in the house,” by Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., part of the Omnicom Group.

“It’s a big-reward, big-risk situation,” Mr. Varga said of the Super Bowl, “but we feel that by participating we have an opportunity.”

Whatever the decision, Mr. Varga said, Papa John’s would proceed with the introduction on Friday of a tie-in product called the Super XL IV Pizza — “XL” for extra large, “IV” for four toppings — priced at $11.99.

Volkswagen is back in the Super Bowl for the first time in nine years, said Tim Ellis, vice president for marketing at Volkswagen of America in Herndon, Va., because such an “important media platform” could generate attention for a new campaign from the brand’s new agency, the Los Angeles office of Deutsch, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

“It’s part of a strategy to broaden our appeal and open ourselves up to more of mainstream America,” Mr. Ellis said. The Super Bowl is typically the most mainstream, and most watched, television show each year.

“The Super Bowl is an entertainment event where 100 million people gather around the television,” said Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer at Audi of America, which, like Volkswagen of America, is based in Herndon and owned by the German automaker Volkswagen.

Audi is returning to the game for a third consecutive year, Mr. Keogh said, because “for us the Super Bowl is working” in stimulating awareness and consideration for the Audi brand. The spot for Audi, by Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, will use the rock band Cheap Trick to promote the A3 TDI diesel.

Audi and Volkswagen are among the auto and auto-related brands that will try to fill the vacuum left by the departure of G.M. Others include American Honda Motor, Bridgestone,, Hyundai and Kia.

Among the other advertisers that have bought commercials in the game are Anheuser-Busch InBev, CareerBuilder, Coca-Cola, Denny’s, Walt Disney Pictures, Frito-Lay, E*Trade, GoDaddy, Mars, Monster, Paramount Pictures, Teleflora and Universal Pictures.

CBS is charging an estimated $2.5 million to $2.8 million for each 30 seconds of commercial time in the game, meaning that some slots cost more and some less. When NBC began selling Super Bowl XLIII, some 30-second slots went for as much as $3 million; the rates fell as the economy dampened demand for such expensive air time.