Super Bowl commercials still pouring it on

by Rick Kushman

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

30 January 2009


There is good news and bad news about being a Super Bowl advertiser. The good part: People actually watch your ad. And the bad? People watch the ad.

If you think there’s pressure on the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday’s Super Bowl, well, actually there is. But there’s pressure on the advertisers, too. They pay $3 million for 30 seconds (ads on Puppy Bowl V cost considerably less; more on that later) and they face demanding viewer expectations.

Super Bowl commercials still pouring it on

Super Bowl XLIII officially starts at 6:18 p.m. EST (on NBC), but first it has to get through all the schmaltzy stuff - songs, flyover, coin toss, ritual sacrifice of a referee - so expect it closer to 6:30 p.m. And right after the kickoff, we get the first ad.

Is there any other time when a room of people - some of them tipsy already (I’m not condoning it, just being a realist) - will stop and hush to watch a TV commercial? TV ads are for using the restroom, unless you just TiVo them into the abyss.

But on Super Bowl Sunday, people watch closely, like they’re feature films or O.J.‘s first trial. So they’d better be good, and they’d better be funny. Or at least solid. What you really, really don’t want is to be lame, because the entire country will make fun of your company for weeks.

A few regular advertisers, like General Motors and FedEx, are not buying in for the game this year because of the economy, though GM is sponsoring some postgame activities. NBC is said to have had some trouble selling all its ad time, but the $3 million-for-30-seconds is a record, up from 2008’s $2.7 million, so don’t cry for NBC. (When you watch its prime time programming, that’s a different story.)

Nonetheless, expect the usual abundance of beer, car and movie ads, led by Anheuser-Bush, which has bought the most commercial time for the past eight Super Bowls. This year, you know the entire country is holding its communal breath to see if Hank the Clydesdale is still on the team.

By most accounts, the TV ads are worth the cost. According to a report from the Nielsen Co., 2008 Super Bowl advertisers saw their Web traffic increase an average of 24 percent the day after the game, and general brand opinion of the advertisers went up 16 percent.

Performing at the game seems to be worth the effort, too. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the 2008 halftime show, saw sales of the band’s “Greatest Hits” album increase by 196 percent in the week after the game, Nielsen said. This year’s halftime act is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - and here’s a coincidence, they have a new album out.

Nielsen also said - I kid you not - that people who call themselves avid NFL fans outspend the average American on skin care by 74 percent. I don’t know why that’s in the report. Don’t know what it means. Just putting it out there.

Speaking of irrelevant, NBC’s pregame shows start at noon. Somewhere in that vast stretch, Matt Lauer will interview President Barack Obama. It will be Obama’s first TV interview since his inauguration. NBC just hopes it will get someone, anyone, to watch the pregame.

For people going to Super Bowl parties but who aren’t crazed NFL fans - and thus use fewer skin-care products - here are some basics on the game, just to help you fit in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to be the first team to win six Super Bowls. The Arizona Cardinals have won more playoff games this season (three) than the franchise has won in nearly 60 years.

The Steelers are an iconic franchise, known for toughness and defense (they’re the NFL’s best defensive team this season). The Cardinals have bright-red uniforms.

The Steelers are the favorites by about a touchdown, but most fans hope the game will stay close, at least until the fourth quarter, when the beer, wine and food - and mostly the beer and wine - kind of make it not matter anymore.

(By the way, that’s why few new ads run in the fourth quarter. Not even for beer.)

The game will be played at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. No one knows who Raymond James is. Apparently, it’s a financial planning firm, and according to its Web site, its business is people.

Last year’s Super Bowl drew a record 97.5 million viewers, and about two-thirds of the TVs in use in America were tuned to the game. As for the other one-third? A couple million were on Animal Planet’s adorable and fuzzy bit of counter programming, the Puppy Bowl.

I am, as you may know, a fan of the Puppy Bowl, and I’m a particular fan of the water-bowl cam, which gives close-ups of puppy noses. What other sport gets you that kind of cuteness?

If you’ve never seen it, Animal Planet puts this thing on a two-hour loop (starting at 3 p.m., ending at 5 a.m.) and there isn’t much more to it than puppies romping and chewing and doing puppy things.

Animal Planet also supplies plenty of pet-adoption information, which is a nice addition. The NFL does not give any details if, say, you wanted to adopt a player.

And as always, I’ve done some pregame scouting to see who’ll show up ready to play on Sunday. I’m picking Buster, Alex and Griffey, but do not count out Gypsy or, of course, Moose.

//Mixed media