How do you impress the world’s most sophisticated television
audience during the most-watched television spectacle of the year? If
you are a US ad agency, creating spots for last Sunday’s Super Bowl, you
simply cast a dog, a cheetah, a snake or even a sock puppet, then sit
back and watch Joe Sixpack coo.
That way you win over the USA Today Ad Meter panel - sample size: 237
viewers! (sic) - which helps lead the crucial national media coverage as
to which spots proved a success or not. And believe me, there was almost
as much debate about what made Budweiser’s Rex, the movie star dog, a
hit as there was about the St Louis Ram Mike Jones’s game-saving,
last-second tackle on the one-yard line.
Those of us jammy enough to be there missed the on-screen commercials
action. Inside Atlanta’s Georgia Bowl, we were treated to re-runs of
classic Super Bowl moments. No advertiser was allowed to own the Bowl,
not even Atlanta’s own Coca-Cola, which shared the extremely limited
stadium advertising space with the likes of Pizza Hut and a brassy,
themed restaurant chain named Hooters (you work out the theme).
Of course, there was the E-trade sponsored half-time show, but the
branding was surprisingly discreet. Having suffered through Phil
Collins, Enrique Iglesias and Christine Aguilera, there are only two
conclusions: a) new-media marketers have as little taste as the good old
car and beer advertisers they supplanted, b) Madonna was
Back in the real world of the television coverage, the dotcoms that
piled into Super Bowl XXXIV were judged to have come unstuck. Sixteen
brands we’ve never heard of (Ourbeginning.com, LifeMinders.com,
Kforce.com ...) were trying to outgun Budweiser, Mountain Dew, M&Ms and
Motorola. The one that did was pets.com, the moving tale of a sock
puppet singing Chicago’s If you leave me now as owners leave their pets
to go shopping.
Too many dotcom advertisers tried to cram too much information into 30
seconds. Conventional wisdom has it that they therefore wasted the
dollars 2 million they forked out on average for a 30-second spot. I’m
not so sure.
Spots from the better-known dotcoms in the programming (pets.com and
E-trade) could focus on their more single-minded advertising
propositions buoyed by months of previous advertising. The problem lay
with those advertisers that tried to explain who they were via the
The real trick in an event like the Super Bowl appears simple: entertain
us. Agencies and clients like DDB Chicago (Budweiser), BBDO New York
(Pepsico) and TBWA Chiat Day (pets.com) know this. At dollars 2 million
per 30 seconds, the risks are huge, but Super Bowl XXXIV pulled in an
impressive 130 million viewers. For that, every dog and his dotcom would
want its chance.