Shocking Defeats and Other Super Bowl XXXIV Marketing Memories
By STUART ELLIOTT
In Super Bowl XXXIV, newcomers delivered and disappointed, favorites came through and fell short and the closely fought action continued to the final moments.
Oh, yeah, and some guys played a football game.
The Ad Bowl that took place on Sunday as the St. Louis Rams edged the Tennessee Titans may be as emblematic of a new era for Madison Avenue as the absence of mainstay teams like the Broncos, Cowboys and 49ers was for the National Football League.
For instance, there were more commercials aimed at women, for products like Bud Light beer and Tropicana orange juice; the first paid public service announcements, for the United States Census and the National Heart Savers Association; and a larger presence for media outlets like Dow Jones & Company and Oxygen Media.
Certainly the most significant sign of change was the proliferation of dot-com spots. Seventeen of the 36 marketers buying national commercial time during the game for a record average of $2.2 million for each 30 seconds came from the Internet world. The results of the high-stakes gamble by the dot-coms — going for broke to break through the clutter — seemed mixed at best.
On the one hand, they got their wish for high visibility: ABC estimated an audience of 130.7 million viewers for the Super Bowl compared with 127.5 million in 1999.
Most preliminary opinion, though, buttressed by the results of some polls, agreed that commercials for Web sites and E-commerce marketers fared less well than spots for traditional Super Bowl sponsors like beers, soft drinks and credit cards. Of course, the not-coms have had decades to perfect their appearances during the annual midwinter festival of commercialism; it looks as if Internet companies are expected to get up to speed in, well, Internet time.
“Traditional brands this year were much more developed and had a more sophisticated core identity,” said Gad Romann, executive creative director at the Romann Group. “The dot-coms have yet to be fully developed.”
When SAA Research asked viewers after the game to name a commercial they recalled seeing, only one of the five spots remembered most often was for a dot-com, the E*Trade Group. By comparison, in the SAA survey last year, two of the top five were dot-coms, a Webcast by Victoria’s Secret, a unit of Intimate Brands, and Monster.com.
Measuring what SAA terms “advertising brand impact,” which refers to positive feelings about a brand generated among those who recalled it being advertised, all the commercials that scored the highest were for traditional marketers, while six of the eight scoring the lowest were for dot-coms.
And only 2 of the 10 most popular commercials in the annual USA Today Ad Meter survey published yesterday — asking consumers to rate the spots as they watched the game — were for dot-coms: Pets.com and Oxygen, which counts as both a media company and a dot-com because it is a cable network and a Web site. At the same time, dot-coms earned the dubious distinction of landing 7 spots among the 10 least popular.
“If any dot-coms are still under the illusion that advertising was the simple solution to building brands, then the Super Bowl will have put an end to that,” said Simon Williams, chairman of the Sterling Group, a brand consulting company. “Meaningless names, meaningless messages and a serious lack of stature were the major leave-behinds.”
Yet not every dot-com was dashed by the outcome of Ad Bowl.
Dow Jones, another media/dot-com double, declared success for its commercial for WSJ.com, the interactive edition of The Wall Street Journal. The spot helped double traffic to the WSJ.com Web site, said Neil Budde, its editor and publisher.
Lastminutetravel.com, which ran a humorous spot by Burkhardt & Hillman immediately after the game ended, was pleased, too.
“Our gamble paid off,” said David Miranda, chief executive at Lastminutetravel.com in Atlanta. “As the ad ran, we started to get 5,000 people per second coming to our site.”
Dot-com commercials were among the top finishers in an online survey of 650 viewers by Insight Express. Of the 14 spots listed as most liked (there were 3 ties among the top 10), 5 were for dot-coms: two E*Trade spots, Pets.com, Oxygen and Lifeminders.com.
Ditto in a survey by Iwin.com, which asked visitors to its Web site to vote on Super Bowl spots in six categories. Of the 10 commercials that were deemed most effective, 5 were for dot-coms: E*Trade, Pets.com, Autotrader.com, Britannica.com and Hotjobs.com.
What follows is an assessment of some of the 53 paid commercials running nationally during the game — 51 shown one time each plus 2 repeats — that represent the new era for Madison Avenue.
BUDWEISER A commercial spoofing classic ads for pet food, in which a talking dog endorsed Budweiser beer for his owner, was the best part of a menagerie unleashed by Anheuser-Busch that also included horses and cats. Ads that parody other ads have become a popular ploy for the new Madison Avenue because they give consumers credit for being in on the joke. Agency: the Chicago office of DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group.
COMPUTER.COM A humorous spot for Computer.com, a Web site specializing in products for novice computer users, was emblematic of the dot-com deluge that assaulted Super Bowl viewers. The commercial, by Merkley Newman Harty, part of Omnicom, coyly assumed a faux naïf pose by pretending to be a low-budget home movie, as did a spot for Lifeminders.com, created in-house. Both were cute, but enough already!
EDS An inventive commercial for EDS effectively made its point about the difficulty of technological tasks by celebrating cowboys who herd cats rather than cattle. The humor and special effects were outstanding. Agency: Fallon McElligott.
E*TRADE Two hilarious commercials were among the game’s best, dot-com or otherwise, because the punch lines were linked to what E*Trade promises to achieve for online investors. One mocked the lofty expectations for Super Sunday ads with a purposely cheesy performing monkey. The other, set in a hospital, reminded viewers of the benefits of being rich. Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, part of Omnicom.
FEDERAL EXPRESS This commercial, appropriating footage from “The Wizard of Oz,” was clever and memorable, but made it seem as though Dorothy (Judy Garland) and the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) were endorsing Federal Express. Shilling and pitching and peddling, oh my! Shades of the infamous Fred Astaire vacuum-cleaner campaign. Agency: BBDO New York, part of the BBDO Worldwide unit of Omnicom.
KFORCE.COM A commercial for the Kforce.com job search Web site owned by Romac International is indicative of a nascent trend: comparative dot-com advertising. The spot, by Grey Advertising, showed a leering huckster who alluded to two Kforce.com rivals — Hotjobs.com and Monster.com — implicitly disparaging both.
MONSTER.COM The sequel to last year’s hugely popular Super Bowl commercial, shown twice during the game, was more serious than its predecessor, which perhaps accounted for its lesser popularity in day-after ad polls. Still, the spot, focused on “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, was a standout, if for nothing more than its novelty as perhaps the only game commercial ever based on a poem. Agency: Mullen Advertising, part of the Lowe Group unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies.
MOUNTAIN DEW Two funny commercials for Mountain Dew, sold by the Pepsi-Cola Company unit of PepsiCo, were emblematic of a shift in emphasis to noncola brands by the soft-drink giants. The spots, by BBDO New York, featured parody and elaborate special effects, both widespread trends. Another noncola Super Bowl player was Cadbury Schweppes, which advertised 7Up in a punny spot by Young & Rubicam Advertising that was the least objectionable part of a campaign centered on double entendres.
NUVEEN Special effects in a commercial for Nuveen Investments made it seem as if the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve could walk. It would have been inspirational, rather than crass and more than a little creepy, if the spot were selling increased research for spinal-cord injuries. Agency: Fallon McElligott.
WSJ.COM By no means the sharpest knife in the drawer, this spot, for the Web site of The Wall Street Journal, still made its point with a hard-working “product as hero” approach. Agency: Arnold Communications, part of Snyder Communications.