OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

The annual marketing extravaganza surrounding the American Super Bowl is often called the advertising game inside the football game. This year, the game-playing seemed to reach levels unmatched since the championship match-up started XXXVII years ago.

That's because there was a wild and woolly spate of spinning that took place separate from the usual hoopla centred on the glitzy, big-budget commercials that marketers such as Anheuser-Busch, DaimlerChrysler, FedEx, General Motors, Pepsi-Cola and Visa bought during the coverage of the game last Sunday.

What happened? Other advertisers, agencies, market researchers, website operators, academicians and a host of hangers-on piled on with press kits, surveys, media advisories, video news releases and similar pseudo-events.

Their intent was to piggyback upon the efforts of the brave souls who actually had the cojones to pay the full freight for commercial time being sold by ABC-TV during the game, at an estimated average of $2.1 million for each 30-second spot.

So McDonald's and its agency, DDB Chicago, sent releases to reporters that were labelled "Super Bowl commercial", though they 'fessed up that the spot would appear "prior to kick-off". That's an obfuscatory way of saying "just before the game gets under way, before anything that matters happens".

Another fast feeder, the Pizza Hut division of Yum Brands, sought to pull off a similar stunt, heralding a new commercial from BBDO New York that peddled a Stuffed Crust Gold Pizza. That spot, too, as it turned out, appeared in a "pre-kick-off" time slot.

Diageo devilishly declared that it would launch Smirnoff Ice Triple Black, a line extension of its popular Smirnoff Ice-flavoured malt beverage, with "a major presence during Super Bowl XXXVII", including a commercial that "will air during the big game".

Well, yeah, kinda, sorta, as the kids say. The spot was bought on local TV stations carrying the broadcast in 64 large markets and never appeared nationally. It couldn't, even if Diageo had wanted it to, because Anheuser-Busch paid ABC to be the sole malt beverage sponsor for its beer brands such as Budweiser and Bud Light.

One stunt that generated considerable coverage was an announcement by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that its attempt to buy a commercial during the game, to help promote Las Vegas as a tourist attraction, was rejected because of policies by the National Football League against ads that could in any way be construed as encouraging sports gambling, a Vegas mainstay.

Though the spot was turned down in August and again in December, the Authority didn't notify the media of the egregious assault on its freedom to advertise until less than two weeks before the game - when the usual massive pre-Super Bowl hype was beginning to build.

I won't dwell on other examples such as the release from a publicist for a state university hardly known as a hotbed of marketing acumen about how sluggish Super Bowl ad sales were (they weren't, considering the economy) and the release about how viewers of the game could "use their PCS phones to judge the commercials by casting votes for their favourite ads" (for those poor souls with Simon Cowell complexes).

There's only one conclusion, sad to say: Super Bowl coat-tail riders could give over-commercialisation a bad name.

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