Advertisers try to stand out on Super Bowl Sunday

http://www.kcstar.com:80/item/pages/home.pat,local/3774312c.129,.html

By JENNIFER MANN – The Kansas City Star

Battling brides, a singing sock puppet, a philosophizing director and a smart-alecky computer icon are some of the characters populating the ads set to be shown between football plays in today’s Super Bowl XXXIV.

The game is being dubbed the dot-com bowl by some because of the glut of Internet companies throwing lots of money — and some say lots of caution — to the wind to get their names and messages out. For many sites it’s make-it-now-or-never time.

In fact, ABC, which is pulling in $135 million for airtime sold, is making most of the dot-com advertisers pay up front, whereas most advertisers pay for spots after they have run.

Many advertisers think the Super Bowl is the place to be seen. Even though viewership has declined, it was still an estimated 135 million last year. With so many ads, however, it can be a dizzying experience for the viewer.

“Consumers are pretty overwhelmed,” said Edward Boches, chief creative officer for the Mullen advertising agency, which has two clients advertising in the Super Bowl. “Certainly the majority of it cannot be connecting.”

Meanwhile, if any advertisers, dot-coms or otherwise, are concerned about the match-up between two small-market teams, the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans, they aren’t saying so.

Perhaps some are comforted because the Rams, 4-12 last year, are a Cinderella team. In fact, their victory a week ago scored the highest audience rating for a playoff game in four years.

Last year only two dot-coms, Monster.com and HotJobs.com, both job-search sites, advertised on the Super Bowl for $66,666 a second. But this year half of the Super Bowl advertisers are either pure dot-coms or otherwise related to the Internet.

And the price this year has gotten considerably steeper, with some paying up to $3 million per 30-second spot, a hundred grand a second.

The average price being paid, however, is $2.2 million for a 30-second spot, still an astounding $73,333 a second.

For that kind of money, the trick for any Super Bowl advertiser, dot-com or not, is to cut through the clutter.

The tightrope is to get the viewers’ attention, entertain and inform them, let them know what your company does and leave a lasting impression, all within 30 to 60 seconds.

Some go for lots of sizzle, some for humor, others for serious images and messages.

For instance, Britannica.com showcases director Francis Ford Coppola in an arty black-and-white spot waxing on about sports, with dialogue such as, “So sports becomes the alternative, where you are really seeing something alive, that hasn’t been prepared…and you don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” followed by its tagline: “What’s On Your Mind?”

Then there are others, such at Pets.com. It features Mr. Sock Puppet singing a warbly rendition of Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” as Beano, a forlorn dog, watches as his master leaves to go get pet supplies.

The spot takes a shot at mimicking a slew of other ads, including a quick cut of a reptile that looks suspiciously like Anheuser-Busch’s Louie the Lizard shedding a tear.

OurBeginning.com, a Web site that provides personalized stationery, is aiming its marketing guns at young, just-starting-out couples.

One spot titled “Angry Brides,” informally called “Brides meet WWF,” was initially rejected by the censors at ABC. The company’s agency went back and tweaked the spot to satisfy the censors.

Yet another dot-com, Lifeminders.com, proudly boasts that it expects to have the worst spot on the Super Bowl.

The deal, says Tim Hanlon, vice president of marketing and communications for Lifeminders, is that the company did not commit to the Super Bowl until Jan. 11, at which time its agency told the company it was way too late to produce anything of any quality.

So Lifeminders.com decided to go it alone. As viewers listen to a pathetic rendition of “Chopsticks,” crude type on the screen explains what the company does and why people should log onto its site: because “We’re information experts (geeks)…. But we don’t know diddly about making ads.”

And while other advertisers, including competing dot-coms, are spending $1 million, $2 million, even $3 million to create ads, Lifeminders spent $4,800.

Back for the big game, as always, is Anheuser-Busch, which this year isn’t saying a lot about what it is running on the Super Bowl.

One ad that has been produced and which may be shown is a heart tugger featuring a tuxedoed veterinarian on New Year’s Eve, a Clydesdale foal and fireworks.

Another Anheuser-Busch ad that may be shown is said to have ruffled the ABC censors. That spot involves a man shot from a cannon becoming a suppository for an elephant when his partner becomes distracted by a Bud beer vendor.

Also back for the big game is 7Up with a series of new commercials featuring its fictional spokesman, Orlando Jones.

In one spot, Orlando encourages the team to douse the coach with a bucket of 7Up after a big victory. Enthusiastically they do so, except the soda is still in the cans. “Ooh,” says a wincing Orlando, as the coach lies on the ground groaning.

Both Monster.com and HotJobs.com, the dot-coms from last year, are back for another go around. In the 24 hours after the game last year, Monster.com saw hits on its Web site soar 450 percent, which almost shorted out its systems.

Most dot-coms are taking a page from that experience and making sure they are set to handle the hoped-for hits.

So why has the Super Bowl become the venue for so many advertisers, particularly the dot-coms?

As Richard Johnson, founder and chief executive officer of HotJobs.com, explains it: “Last year we were the smallest company in the history of the Super Bowl to advertise. Fox (network) rejected our commercial, people said I was crazy…but it paid off in spades — it made us look like geniuses.”

To reach Jennifer Mann, call (816) 234-4453 or send e-mail to [email protected]