Super Bowl Lures HomeAway, 10 Years After Dot-Com Debacle

By Zoran Basich

They called it the Dot-Com Super Bowl.

For one brief cultural moment, little-known start-ups, often based on business plans flimsier than a Brett Favre retirement announcement but inexplicably flush with venture capital, occupied the most valuable advertising space in the history of the world. Super Bowl XXXIV, pitting the Tennessee Titans against the St. Louis Rams on January 31, 2000, was going to be their moment to break through to consumers and vault to the heights of the new e-commerce economy.

With the benefit of 10 years of hindsight, of course, it represents the moment when these companies had reached their frothy pinnacle. Most of the more than a dozen dot-coms that paid more than $2 million for 30-second Super Bowl ads – such as, and – failed to catch on, and became the Poster Sock-Puppet of empty Silicon Valley hype.

Ten years down the road, most venture-backed companies are more concerned with keeping costs down and proving they can actually make money than they are in blowing wads of investor cash on TV commercials. One exception is massively funded vacation rental service, which is using the upcoming Super Bowl XLIV to show its first national ad and launch a yearlong campaign centered on Chevy Chase and the rest of the fictional Griswold family of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie fame.

The company is taking advantage of a decline in Super Bowl advertising rates that has seen the price of a 30-second clip drop to $2.5 million to $2.8 million, down from last year’s $3 million rate. Not that HomeAway needs much of a discount – it has raised more than $400 million in venture backing, from firms including Technology Crossover Ventures, Institutional Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Austin Ventures and Trident Capital.

With the economy still feeling the effects of a recession, plenty of major companies like FedEx and General Motors are sitting this one out. But Austin, Texas-based HomeAway clearly sees the game as their moment to break through – much as the ill-fated dot-coms felt 10 years ago. “Consumer awareness of vacation rentals is still low, even though it’s one of the fastest growing segments of online travel,” says Brian Sharples, founder and chief executive officer of HomeAway, in a statement announcing the ad. “We’re going to use the Super Bowl broadcast to launch an exciting campaign highlighting the benefits of vacation rentals to reach more than 100 million people.”

To be fair, the company and its new commercial have one huge advantage over the 2000 class: There’s not a sock puppet in sight.