Super Bowl Spots Seem to Work for Many Dot-Coms
Addenda By STUART ELLIOTT
Every year after the Super Bowl, Madison Avenue assesses the performance of the advertisers that spent the huge sums required to run commercials during the game. This time, with Super Bowl XXXIV being considered the first Dot-Com Bowl — 17 of the 36 companies sponsoring the broadcast were related to the Internet — the results are being more closely followed.
That’s particularly true for the dot-com debutantes that used the Super Bowl as their coming-out party, introducing themselves to the estimated 130.75 million Americans who watched the game on ABC. Will viewers now go online to visit the Web sites of the dot-coms? Will the Web sites bear up under increased traffic? Will visitors like what they see? Will they buy anything?
Never mind that no one tracks shoppers at convenience stores the day after the Super Bowl, wondering whether the products of traditional advertisers like Budweiser, Mountain Dew, 7Up and Tropicana are moving off shelves faster. And forget that few, if any, analysts count tickets sold at movie theaters for films advertised during the Super Bowl. The dot-coms are held to different standards, perhaps because of their insistent assertions that there’s no business like e-business.
To that end, several efforts are being made to measure the post-game performance of the dot-com commercials. The most ambitious is a study by Media Metrix, which examined the Internet sites of Super Bowl advertisers to measure the average number of daily unique visitors (people who visit a Web site) before and after the game.
“It either worked or it didn’t,” said Doug McFarland, senior vice president and general manager at Media Metrix. “You either did very well or you had no change.”
“Of course,” he added, “the real story will be watching these sites over the next six to eight months, to see if what worked for Hotjobs.com and Monster.com can happen again. Getting a nice spike is nice, but how many will remember the name and come back?” Mr. McFarland’s reference was to two dot-coms, both operators of job-search sites, which first captured the public’s attention by advertising during Super Bowl XXXIII in January 1999.
In some instances, the Media Metrix survey showed that traffic to dot-com sites soared on Sunday and Monday compared with the average figures for the three weeks before the game — climbing sharply from few or even no measurable visitors before to thousands or tens of thousands after. Such showings were made by companies like Computer.com; Hotjobs.com; Kforce.com, part of Romac International; Microstrategy; and Ourbeginning.com.
“We’re thrilled,” said Joe Payne, chief marketing officer at Microstrategy in Vienna, Va., a software maker that ran two commercials, created in-house, during the first and fourth quarters of the game.
“If the Super Bowl helps us to do one deal,” he added, “it’ll pay for itself.” Super Bowl advertisers paid a record average of $2.2 million for each 30 seconds of commercial time.
Other dot-coms that enjoyed substantial gains in Web site traffic, according to the Media Metrix survey, included Britannica.com; Lifeminders.com; Oxygen.com, part of Oxygen Media; Pets.com; WebMD.com, operated by Healtheon/ WebMD; and WSJ.com, part of Dow Jones & Company.
For some Super Bowl dot-coms, traffic to their sites showed little or no change, the survey showed, possibly because they already were “very high profile names,” before their commercials ran, Mr. McFarland said. Those included the E*Trade Group and Monster.com.
Bill Willard, custom analysis director for Media Metrix in Atlanta, identified some Web sites, for newer dot-coms, that registered relatively small gains in visitors, though the percentage increases were high. They included: Epidemic.com, from 9,000 to 30,000 visitors; Lastminutetravel.com, which ran its spot immediately after the game ended, from 6,000 to 27,000 visitors; and Netpliance.com, from no measurable traffic to 8,000 visitors.
And in some instances, the survey found no measurable traffic to the sites of dot-com advertisers after the game. Those included Autotrader.com and OnMoney.com. Media Metrix bases its numbers on the patterns of a panel of 50,000 Web users.
Nine of the 10 sites with the most traffic after the game were dot-coms, the survey showed. The exception was the Web site of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment (www.wwf.com). Other not-coms with good postgame numbers included Federal Express (www.fedex.com); the largest decline was registered by Motorola (www.motorola.com), down 23.5 percent.
Having looked at the traffic to the Web sites of Super Bowl advertisers, how did those sites perform once they began getting hits? That was the province of a study by Keynote Systems, a provider of Web site performance measurement.
“Most of them did pretty well,” said Gene Shklar, vice president for public services at Keynote in San Mateo, Calif., “but nine showed performance anomalies.” Those included the sites of Autotrader.com, Epidemic.com, Kforce.com, Lastminutetravel.com and Universal Pictures, part of the Seagram Company, which advertised two films during the game, “The Nutty Professor II” and “U-571.”
Most sites that experienced “performance degradation” during or after the game were operating normally by yesterday, he added.
“The ones with no problems at all,” Mr. Shklar said, “seemed to be the companies that have done this for a while and learned to scale their Web sites for peak demand.”
“The Super Bowl was a watershed event in the integration of television and the Web,” he added. “When a huge audience glued to the TV screen sees a commercial with a U.R.L., they will get up and access the site. You know the Web’s a monster when you see a Budweiser ad and ‘www.budweiser.com’ is at the bottom of the screen.”
According to another survey, by Harris Interactive, two-thirds of Internet users reported watching the Super Bowl, but the dot-com advertising had only relatively low awareness and effectiveness among them.
For instance, when survey respondents were asked specifically about certain dot-coms advertisers, so-called aided awareness, only four dot-coms scored in double digits: E*Trade, 54 percent; Pets.com, 41 percent; Monster.com, 24 percent; and Hotjobs.com, 11 percent. All were significant advertisers before the Super Bowl.
When the Harris Interactive Intermedia Pulse study asked if a commercial “made you plan to visit” the dot-com’s Web site, the highest response, at 38 percent, came for Britannica.com, which ran a commercial in the third quarter by Deutsch Inc. The other top scorers were: Autotrader.com, 33 percent; Computer.com and Hotjobs.com, tied at 27 percent; and Kforce.com, 24 percent.
The rest of the responses: Oxygen.com, 21 percent; Pets.com, 20 percent; Monster.com, 18 percent; Etrade.com, 17 percent; and Lifeminders.com, 12 percent.
Other surveys, in the spirit of Dot-Com Bowl I, were taken online, asking computer users to rate spots.
Adcritic.com, a Web site operated since the last Super Bowl by Peter Beckman, a self-described ad fan, is asking visitors to vote for favorite spots. The leader yesterday afternoon was the “Bohemian Rhapsody” parody spot for Mountain Dew, sold by the Pepsi-Cola Company unit of PepsiCo and created by BBDO New York, part of the BBDO Worldwide unit of the Omnicom Group.
No. 2 was the E*Trade monkey commercial about “wasting” ad dollars, by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, also part of Omnicom. The No. 3 spot was the “cat herders” for EDS, by Fallon McElligott, which was leading in a separate poll by Yahoo, the portal Web site, at www.yahoo.com/promotions /superspots.
A Microstrategy spot was second in the Yahoo poll yesterday afternoon. The Pets.com spot — by the San Francisco office of TBWA/ Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide unit of Omnicom — was third.