Super Bowl Commercials are Dot-Coming
Internet companies enter the advertising fray
by Mike Morrison
Approximately 130 million Americans will click their remote controls to ABC this Sunday (Jan. 30, 2000) at 6:00 p.m. to see the St. Louis Rams square off against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. And for a good portion of those viewers, the actual game will take a back seat to the highly anticipated and increasingly expensive commercials.
In 1999, Fox set a Super Bowl record by pulling in an average of $1.6 million for each 30-second spot during its Super Sunday coverage. This year ABC has shattered that mark by charging an average of $2.3 million, with some companies doling out a whopping $3 million! For 30 seconds!
Supply and Demand
Why the huge price increase? Any economist will tell you it's all a matter of supply and demand, and this year the demand has gone through the roof—thanks to a host of internet companies with deep pockets and a desire for instant name recognition. Last year, job-related Web sites Hotjobs.com and Monster.com were two of only three internet companies to take the plunge into Super Bowl advertising. Hotjobs spent almost half of its annual revenue for its thirty-second spot. But thanks to the enormous growth of those two companies after the Super Bowl, the tally of dot-coms getting into the action this year has climbed to 13 companies.
"Since airing the spot, our member companies and job seekers have doubled in number and our revenues have increased by 82%," said Hotjobs president and CEO Richard Johnson. Monthly traffic on Hotjobs soared from approximately 450,000 per month before the ad aired to over 2.3 million after the broadcast. Monster.com reported a 450% increase in job searches on their site after their popular ad where children longed to "claw their way to middle management" and "file all day" when they grow up.
Risk vs. Reward
Clearly the investment paid off for these two companies, and both responded by purchasing two spots each for Sunday's game. There is a very real fear, however, that with so many internet companies joining the act, some dot-com backlash will be inevitable. It'll be tougher to stand out from the crowd so the pressure is even higher for these companies to develop an ad creative enough to leave a lasting impression on the consumer. For these reasons, many companies chose to stay on the sidelines. While online brokerage site E*Trade.com will run two ads on Sunday, competitor dljdirect.com opted out of the game. But the company chose another way to attract attention—free trading on Sunday. "Why invest $2 million on one ad in the Super Bowl when we could invest it in you," the company promoted.
Despite the fact that small-market teams Tennessee (ranked 30th) and St. Louis (21st) are the participants in the game, the demand for air time on the big day is still higher than ever. The Super Bowl has become such an enormous media event (for many, an unofficial national holiday) that ratings are now largely unaffected by the two teams playing. ABC noted that all 61 of its 30-second game-time spots were sold out long ago, but now ABC salespeople have reportedly tried to buy back some of the spots (for example, those that were originally sold for $2 million or under) to resell them to the highest bidder.
And it's not only the internet companies that are still biting. As usual, the "big boys" have come to play as well. Pepsi, Visa, and General Motors will all be represented on Sunday and Anheuser-Busch shelled out a reported $17 million for a combined total of five minutes of air time. This allows Anheuser-Busch the distinction of exclusive beer advertiser of the Super Bowl for the 12th consecutive year.
Anheuser-Busch is still deciding which eight to ten of its commercials to run, but one will apparently feature the birth of a Clydesdale and at least one more will continue with the increasingly popular yet equally annoying "Wasssuuuuppp!!!" campaign. If you don't know it already, you will. A-B will also feature retired hockey player Wayne Gretzky as a designated driver. As Gretzky drives his friend home from a bar in a Zamboni the tagline reads, "Every designated driver is a Great One."
BMW of North America will introduce the new X5 sport-utility vehicle.
Computer.com will run an ad in the fourth quarter that will make fun of the abundance of other dot-com commercials you will have already seen at that point.
Hotjobs.com will give the "hand" icon that most of us see on our computer everyday a bit more personality.
Lastminutetravel.com, a Web site for people looking to travel with little or no advanced notice, plans to run its 30-second spot appropriately enough, during the last minute of the game.
Oxygen Media will run an ad in the second quarter that features its new women's cable network and accompanying Web site. Women are often forgotten in Super Bowl advertising despite the fact in 1999 they accounted for 42.8% of all viewers (according to Nielsen figures). Oh sure, last year Victoria's Secret bought some time to advertise the Web cast for its live fashion show. While it may indeed be a store primarily for women, the ads and fashion show clearly were not. "It's an unexpected place to be but we want to be in unexpected places," said Oxygen Media VP of Marketing Tricia Melton. "It took a lot of ovaries to do this." Their ad campaign focuses on the tagline, "another great reason to be a woman." Incidentally, reasons include "no back hair" and "first on the lifeboats."
Pepsi has purchased four spots and will spend much of its time promoting Mountain Dew. One ad will show a young Gen-Xer on a bike trying to chase down a cheetah that apparently stole his can of Mountain Dew.
Pets.com will feature more adventures of the "sock puppet."
Volvo of North America will bring back Gus, the loveable truck driver from its ad in 1998.