Does Super Bowl Marketing Pay Off?

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Some of this month’s big-game advertisers justify spending $2 million for 30 seconds

By Maggie Rauch

AS THE MOST widely viewed annual television event (CBS projects that 135 million will tune in on January 28), the National Football League’s Super Bowl is a powerful advertising tool. But with airtime costing more than $2 million per 30-second spot, how do advertisers make sure they create a marketing campaign that generates a return on their investment?

It starts with an ad that gets the viewer’s attention. “It’s a competitive forum, and you have to break through the clutter,” says Dave DeCecco, spokesman for Super Bowl–veteran Pepsi. “There’s a lot of water cooler conversations about it, and you want to be talked about.”

Of course, you also want to make sure that it’s really your company that’s talked about, and not just a catchy ad. It’s easy to get caught up in the entertainment and lose sight of brand recognition. “There were a lot of great ads last year where people saw them and the next day didn’t know what they were for,” says Peter Blacklow, senior vice president for marketing at online job site Monster.com, which will be advertising during the Super Bowl for the third year in a row.

It’s for that reason that Peter Krieg, executive vice president of Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research in Westport, Connecticut, is skeptical about the value of most Super Bowl commercials. He doesn’t believe that any of the ads from Super Bowl 2000 created solid connections to the brand. “Just after a commercial, I could ask what company it was for and you’d be hard-pressed to answer,” he says.

Although the Super Bowl delivers a large captive audience, leveraging access to that audience is a delicate matter. On top of the regular challenges of advertising, companies must contend with a loud chorus of competitors, and a huge price tag. Krieg believes that most companies can better spend the $2 million elsewhere. “If you are a sports-oriented brand targeting men from 30 to 50, it makes perfect sense,” he says. “But even companies that seem like a perfect fit for the Super Bowl could do a lot more with that money elsewhere.”

Advertisers say the best way to take advantage of the Super Bowl is to use it as an extension of consistent marketing efforts throughout the year. “A company must make sure that all of its advertising, including the Super Bowl, stays true to the brand,” says Elisa Romm, vice president for U.S. advertising, Mastercard International.

Pepsi, Monster.com, and Mastercard plan to run the campaigns they will launch on Super Bowl Sunday for a few months after the game. “It is important that we look at our Super Bowl ad for its ability to add value throughout the year,” Romm says.

Monster.com also plans to keep up with the audience by integrating online and offline efforts. “We always have [Web] pages that complement the ad,” Blacklow says. Of the dot-com companies that advertised last year and have opted out this time, Blacklow says, “A lot of those start-up companies were trying to use the Internet to launch a brand and they hadn’t figured out a business model yet. They sort of loaded everything into the Super Bowl. We use it as one of many vehicles.”

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Editorial Intern Maggie Rauch can be reached at [email protected]