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Friday, Feb 3, 2023
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Ads as Crucial to Big Game as the Game Itself

I’ll let you in on a little secret, although it may be the worst kept secret on television.

The Super Bowl is not about football. For many viewers, it hardly matters which teams are playing, or what city is hosting the game.

Now in its 40th year, the Super Bowl is no longer about a championship football game. Instead, it’s all about TV commercials.

More people will congregate in front of the TV set for the Super Bowl than any other show all year, making it not only the top-rated sporting event but also the Super Bowl of advertising. On Sunday, Feb. 5, many of the estimated 90 million viewers in the United States, and millions more worldwide, will be drawn to a television with one thing in mind, and that is to watch the TV commercials.

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For those national advertisers who want to reach a mass audience as quickly as possible, there’s nothing better than the Super Bowl. Despite nagging worries about declining TV viewership as more consumers plug into their iPods and the Internet, the Super Bowl has remained a resilient stronghold of truly mass media. On that Sunday afternoon, viewership will include a cross section of all demographics and defy the current trend of audience fragmentation. People will be riveted to their television, and the TV ads will be at the top of their interest list.

Different this year will be a larger number of high-definition TV spots.

The game has aired in ultra-sharp HD since 2000 (research has shown a growing number of Super Bowl parties are held in homes of an HDTV owner). However, Super Bowl XL on ABC will be the first in which the number of HD ads will cross the 50-yard line. More than half the ads will run in HD, including Anheuser-Busch, the largest advertiser, with five minutes in HD.

On some HDTV telecasts, a standard commercial looks like someone put a sheet over the screen. Also, they rarely fill the wide HD screen, leaving bands on each side. This year, Super Bowl regular FedEx is switching to HD to ensure a seamless transition from the game to its commercial.

Some advertisers have passed on the Super Bowl in favor of advertising in the Winter Olympics, which begins on NBC just five days after the Super Bowl.

Still, Super Bowl ad prices appear headed toward a record $2.5 million for a 30-second spot, surpassing last year’s $2.4 million. In comparison, the Olympics have more ad time for less , an average of $700,000 per 30-second, prime time ad slot. The Olympics will draw about 60 million viewers in prime time. Of course, some advertisers will air commercials on both , since each event fulfills different marketing objectives.

This year’s Super Bowl lineup will include the usual selection of both the belly-laugh humorous and heartstring serious , all of them highlighting the brilliant, creative genius of the advertising industry.

Old standbys, such as Budweiser, General Motors Corp. and Pepsi-Cola, will be there. Buena Vista Pictures, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. will all pitch new movies. Absent this year will be McDonald’s and Visa, who opted out of the game for the Olympics.

So, which TV spots will be the favorites of “the-morning-after” conversations around the water cooler? The selection looks as appetizing as a halftime buffet:

– The monkeys from CareerBuilder.com are back for another year of rampaging around office cubicles.

– Toyota will feature a bilingual ad with a Latino father driving his young son in their new hybrid Camry (switching between English and Spanish is compared to switching between gas and electric power). “Because I’m always thinking of your future,” the father says, explaining why he learned English , and why he bought a hybrid.

– Burger King is returning after an 11-year absence. Their ad is an over-the-top production in the spirit of MGM’s 1930s musicals: 92 “Whopperettes” dressed as burgers, flames, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes will sing and dance to new lyrics for the famous “Have It Your Way” jingle. Shortly after the 60-second ad airs on the telecast, it will be sent to millions of Sprint wireless phone subscribers with video service. Sprint users also can see a longer version that includes outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage.

– In an interesting change of pace, Dove soap is hoping to change the way society measures beauty. The spot, featuring young girls with hang-ups about their looks, is intended to build up their self-esteem with the message that real beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.

– American Home Health will use people in biosuits to illustrate the strength of its home anti-bacterial soaps and disinfectants.

– Emerald Nuts, the snack food of Diamond Foods, Inc., will use eagle-eyed machete-wielding businessmen and a fast-talking little druid to sell the company’s nut snacks (I can’t wait for that one).

– ESPN will launch Mobile ESPN, the network’s mobile-phone service.

– With the game played in its Detroit hometown, General Motors will hype its revamped 2007 Escalade SUV by Cadillac.

– Aleve pain reliever will feature actor Leonard Nimoy, while Pizza Hut will showcase the Muppets, including singer Jessica Simpson and Miss Piggy wearing matching outfits.

If the game gets boring, perhaps the most fun for viewers will be to play the role of TV critic and offer opinionated commentary about which spots they loved and hated. Another entertaining activity will be to notice how the advertisers devised unconventional and clever ways to get their messages across.


Jim King, media director at San Diego ad agency Meads-Durket, is the 2005-06 president of the San Diego Advertising Club.

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