The Super Bowl is on track to remain one big, glitzy bash even in these tough economic times.
That's not to say some advertisers aren't nervous about buying
expensive ad slots as business falters. Some stalwarts such as
General Motors Corp., FedEx Corp. and Garmin Ltd. won't be
advertising on the Feb. 1 broadcast on NBC. Playboy Enterprises
Inc. isn't throwing its customary party at the game, for the first
time in nine years.
But aggressive marketing by NBC to secure ad deals before last
September's financial meltdown helped to ensure Super Bowl XLIII
won't be a marketing bust.
NBC said 90 percent of the Super Bowl ads had sold as of
mid-January. Most ads have sold for about $3 million per 30-second
spot - an all-time high price for the Super Bowl, which is the most
watched event in the nation, with about 100 million U.S. viewers.
This year's game will be between the Arizona Cardinals - which won
the NFC Conference Championship with a 32-25 victory over the
Philadelphia Eagles Sunday - and the winner of the AFC title game
between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The sales pace matched those of previous years and the network
said it was in discussions on the remaining unsold spots. Most are
in the fourth quarter, and tend to go for slightly less than other
positions in the broadcast.
"There is unrivaled attention surrounding the game," said
Brian Walker, senior director of communications at NBC Sports in
New York. "As research confirms, it remains the most powerful
vehicle for an advertiser to promote its brand and products."
While some high-profile advertisers have pulled the plug, many
are staying put and some, such as Mars Inc.'s Pedigree pet food,
will appear in the Super Bowl for the first time.
But the tone of some ads this year will reflect tough times. As
Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University's
Kellogg School of Management puts it: A good ad connects with its
audience. And that audience is stressed about finances.
Take the case of Hyundai Motors America.
Automotive ads during the Super Bowl tend to focus on vehicle
launches, and Hyundai was planning to run two 30-second spots for
its Genesis Coupe - one with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing a
Bach piece that viewers can re-edit online.
But now, the South Korean carmaker might exchange one of the ads
for a spot featuring a new incentive program that forgives auto
loans for car buyers who lose their income within a year of the
"We know consumers are concerned about their future earnings,"
said Joel Ewanick, vice president of marketing at Hyundai Motor
Co.'s Fountain Valley, Calif.-based American division. "That's
keeping a whole bunch of people on the sidelines from buying a new
Longtime Super Bowl patron Anheuser-Busch is taking a different
approach. The Budweiser brewer said it wants its ads to uplift and
entertain viewers instead of reminding them about the economy.
The company is still spending heavily on the Super Bowl, even
after announcing 1,400 job cuts in December that were tied to its
acquisition by InBev SA. Anheuser-Busch will be airing 4½ minutes
worth of ads - 30 seconds more than what it purchased last year -
broken up into two 60-second ads and five half-minute spots.
The Super Bowl remains a unique marketing vehicle because it's
known as much for its commercials as the game itself. A TNS Media
survey released this month confirmed that people watch commercials
throughout the game, instead of switching channels.
"The Super Bowl remains as truly the only property that has the
ability to reach the largest mass audience across all demographics
at one time," said TNS Media CEO Dean DeBiase.
That's why Audi of America is staying put and buying a 60-second
spot. The Germany automaker Audi AG wants to raise its profile as a
luxury brand for younger, affluent consumers.
"We need to make the Audi brand far more popular and far more
known," said Chief Marketing Officer Scott Keogh. "That's why we
do the Super Bowl and the Olympics."
Last year, traffic to Audi's Web site tripled in the month leading up to the Super Bowl - as details about the ads were teased - and the month immediately after.
In the face of dismal automotive news, Audi said it's important
to communicate strength and optimism. Or as Keogh put it, "This is
a brand that's spending money."
The Go Daddy Group Inc., which registers Internet domain names,
is unapologetic about splurging on the Super Bowl. This is the same
company that unabashedly threw a $2 million holiday party last
month - flying in thousands of employees and guests to Arizona - as
other firms cut back. CEO Bob Parsons rode a motorcycle into a
concert that featured Joan Jett and Sinbad at Phoenix's Chase
GoDaddy is elated that NBC has approved two somewhat racy ads
for the Super Bowl, one of which will air after a consumer vote.
Censors disapproved its ad for last year's Super Bowl, so GoDaddy
aired a spot telling viewers to go to its Web site to watch the
commercial. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GoDaddy got 1.5 million Web
hits before the game ended.
"Our ads are fun, edgy and slightly inappropriate," said
spokeswoman Elizabeth Driscoll.
That figures to get attention no matter how the economy is