FEATURE: Super Bowl

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 February 2003 12:00AM

With 30-second spots going at $2.2m a pop, the Super Bowl may get the big-name advertisers - but the real originality often comes from unlikely quarters. Mark Tutssel, vice-chairman and deputy CEO at Leo Burnett US, guides us through the game.

Last Sunday at 6pm Eastern Time, toe was put to pigskin and the culmination of a year's worth of football began.

Thirty-two teams have played a total of 512 games to get to this point. Up to 80,000 fans passed through the turnstiles at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. Some 132 million Americans, and a global audience of over 200 million, tuned in to watch football's most prolific offense battling the league's stingiest defense: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus the Oakland Raiders.

It was much more than just Super Bowl XXXVII, it was the All Pirate Playoff. The vast TV audience was uniquely positioned to view the game within the game. Not the chess match of coaching strategies or the calculated battle of field position, but the championship battle for the viewers themselves. The Super Bowl of Advertising.

The biggest day of the year has become more than just a contest between football teams. It has developed into a competition among advertisers who pay millions of dollars for a few seconds of airtime. The goal is to be the best.

As the media landscape gets more and more fragmented the Super Bowl is an opportunity for one massive consumer hit. A commercial on the Super Bowl can reach 50 per cent of US households in one sitting.

The traditional formula followed by advertisers (celebrities, humour, music and animals) was back in style after the recent spate of dot.com hyperbole and post-9/11 patriotism.

Celebrities galore - The Osbournes, Jackie Chan, Michael Jordan, Celine Dion, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw.

But what's a pirate story without some buried treasure. Only in this case the spot on the map isn't marked with an X, it's got an Anheuser-Busch logo on it.

The brewing giant bought 11 30-second spots at $2.2 million each for airtime. You do the math. What did Penelope Keith say in that famous Parker Pen commercial? "The noughts just seem to roll off the pen."

They were the most visible advertiser during the game, running mostly humour-oriented spots for Budweiser and Bud Light. Traditional crowd-pleasers.

The vast majority of spots were intended to be funny, but this year they were just a bunch of gratuitous gags. There was one exception - a spot featuring the Clydesdales. It played off the "instant replay" during the game. A group of horses stood around while a zebra (the referee) reviewed the playback. This was perfect timing, because seconds later the first instant replay of the game occurred.

Unlike the notorious Raiders' silver-and-black barmy army of fans, spewing vulgarity and flipping middle fingers, Ozzy Osbourne was far more civilized in the Pepsi Twist spot. Ozzy is #!!#!!!!# shocked as his kids, Jack and Kelly, morph into Donny and Marie Osmond. As he screams "Sharon", he wakes up in bed to discover it was only a dream. He rolls over to find his wife has turned into Florence Henderson of the Brady Bunch. The public loved it.

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan, the ultimate commercial endorser, was playing for two teams, Gatorade and Hanes.

In the Gatorade spot, "23 vs 39", Jordan played himself, literally. While technically well done, the idea of having Jordan of today engage Chicago Bulls Jordan of 1987 in a game of one-on-one isn't the most original idea. The technique has been used twice before, by Reebok alone, in Manchester United "Dream Team" and "Shaq vs. Shaq", as well as the award-winning Alan and Jerome spots for Fox Sports.

In Hanes' first Super Bowl spot since 1985, Michael teamed up with Hollywood martial arts maven Jackie Chan in an ad for its Tagless T-shirts. The spot shows action hero Chan whipping himself into numerous contortions, trying to remove the irritating tag on his shirt. I can think of better ways to spend millions of dollars. Tagless T-shirts, yes. Nike "Tag", far from it.

The nation's newest basketball star, 7' 5" Yao Ming of China appeared in a Visa spot. He runs into trouble writing a cheque in a New York souvenir shop. The spot centered on the confusion between "Yo" and "Yao".

Levi's, from BBH, New York, went back to the heritage of the brand for their spot "Stampede". The spot was created to mark the introduction of the Levi's Type 1 jeans line and to celebrate the jeans maker's 150th anniversary in 2003.

It shows a couple standing up to a stampede of buffalo as they wreck havoc, storming through the city streets. This, unfortunately, was a poor "Odyssey 2". The casting, performance and music all lacked the Glazer factor.

One spot for Trident proved you don't have to spend millions of dollars to be a hit during the Super Bowl.

The commercial is a parody of the brand's "four out of five dentists" claim. The spot shows the dentists casting their vote. As the fifth screams "No!", we reveal a squirrel has crawled up his trouser leg, searching for nuts. He finds them. With no repeat fees for squirrels, this is a lot cheaper than the eye-watering amounts spent on celebrities.

This year's H&R Block spot was a comical look at country crooner Willie Nelson's infamous tax problems, making a departure from the arty Coen Brothers spot "Tax Man" from last year. This was one of the few commercials that had an idea. Willie ends up as a hapless spokesman in a shaving cream commercial.

This year's Commercial of the Match was for FedEx. This clever spoof on the Tom Hanks film Castaway features a haggard delivery-man returning a package to a woman five years late. When he asks her what was inside, she replies: "Oh just a satellite phone, GPS locator, seeds, fishing rod and water purification pills ... silly stuff."

With thousands and thousands of journalists writing about the Super Bowl, it has emerged as a highly scrutinised, highly critical advertising event. If the commercial is bad, and there were lots of them, it can have a devastating effect on a brand. For the best, it could be instant worldwide fame.

At Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21, the result of the game was more surprising and clearer than much of the advertising. Competitively, the game was a bit of a laugh as well-again, more so than many of the ads. At 2.2 million each in airtime alone, that just isn't funny.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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