It's the Super Bowl of Advertising, Too


Jan. 29, 2007 — -- By now, director Ridley Scott's Orwellian spot for Apple Computer is a pop-culture legend -- and probably the most famous television commercial in history.

The Apple spot aired just once, on Jan. 22, 1984 -- Super Bowl Sunday. But those 60 seconds launched a fledgling company and rewrote the rules of Super Bowl advertising.

Scott's ad cost about $800,000 to air, which seems quaint by today's standards. Advertisers will shell out as much as $2.6 million for each 30-second spot during Super Bowl XLI.

That's the most expensive ad buy in television history, eclipsing last year's game. But companies believe it's worth it. An estimated 90 million people worldwide will tune into the game on CBS on Feb. 4.

Scoring a choice seat at a Super Bowl party has become as much about catching a glimpse of the commercials as watching the game itself.

This year, more than ever, major advertisers have rolled out the hype long before you crack open that first beer. Marketers are trying to get more bang for their game-day ad bucks by running marketing contests, promoting online voting and offering online previews to drive interest and increase online traffic.

"They're trying to drum up a lot of excitement before the Bowl," said Jonah Bloom, editor of Advertising Age. "The point today is to try to drive people to your Web site."

Along with the traditional over-the-top and celebrity-driven ads, several major companies have put the creative torch into the hands of everyday people. The NFL, Chevy and Doritos will all run consumer-generated ads during the Super Bowl.

The sky-high price tag usually means the ad buys are limited to the biggest, most well-established companies, along with a couple of smaller companies looking to make a big splash. "The lineup of advertisers won't come as a big surprise," Bloom said.

Among this year's buyers are FedEx, General Motors,, Pepsi and Taco Bell. There are a couple of new additions though.

Coca-Cola will return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998, while Snapple will make its debut this year.

But there may be room for some surprises. Bloom said a few advertisers have eschewed pregame hype, choosing instead to keep quiet so they can make the big "unveil."

Some Super Bowl commercials have already started generating buzz.

Nationwide Insurance has solicited Kevin Federline to star in its "Life Comes at You Fast" campaign ad. Following in the footsteps of Fabio and MC Hammer, Federline will poke fun at himself in the spot, which finds him daydreaming about being a rapper while working at a fast food joint.

"There's not a week when he's not on the front cover of one of the celeb rags," said Bloom. "It will certainly catch some attention."

And it already has, but probably not the kind some ad executives intended. The National Restaurant Association blasted the commercial's concept, which debuted on Nationwide's Web site Monday, calling it demeaning to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry. Nationwide quickly shot back, arguing that the spot is meant to be "a humorous take on one person's life."

Paris Hilton also joins the ranks of this year's Super Bowl commercials. She's among the celebrities slated to appear in an all-star NFL Network commercial, alongside L.L. Cool J, Martha Stewart and others.

Also expected on game day are remnants of Super Bowl of yore.

"I expect there'll be some talking horses and frat-boy humor," said Bloom.

Pizza Hut plans to debut a new spot featuring singer Jessica Simpson, and Internet domain registrar, known for its racy spots, will debut an ad starring racecar driver Danica Patrick. has done away with its monkey-themed ads. Instead it's providing a preview of this year's spot with an online promotion about taking a "soul-sucking" job.

As usual, Budweiser will have a big presence during the Super Bowl. The beer company -- known for creating the famous Bud Bowl and Budweiser frogs -- will bring in the talents of rapper Jay-Z and NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. this year. Snippets of some ads have already been posted on YouTube, and the beer company will invite consumers to vote for their favorite spot via text message.

Bloom said Anheuser-Busch may also launch the start of, a 24-hour online network with several channels featuring satirical newscasts, comedy and other entertainment items.

Some other companies are not going the traditional marketing route and deciding instead to hand the responsibility over to amateurs. Several corporate giants, including GM, Doritos and the NFL itself, held contests inviting viewers to film their own commercials, with the winners airing during the broadcast.

Advertisers have held national contests before, but this is the first time they have come into play during the Super Bowl, said Bloom, who added that marketers are trying to tap into the popularity of user-generated content on sites like

Gino Bona was the winner of the NFL contest that invited pitches for the "Best NFL Super Bowl Commercial Ever." Bona, a director of business development in Portland, Maine, beat out 12 finalists and thousands of football fans.

General Motors has also joined the action with its "Chevy Super Bowl College Ad Challenge." Students entering Chevy's contest had their ideas judged by a group of executives from Chevrolet, as well as an ad agency. The winners -- chosen from about 800 teams -- will be announced Feb. 2.

In the case of the Doritos contest, the viewers will even have the final say on which ad airs. Five finalists were selected in Frito-Lay's "Crash the Super Bowl" challenge, which asked budding filmmakers to create and shoot their own 30-second Doritos commercial. Nearly 1,100 entries were submitted and whittled down to five finalists, whose work was posted online. Voting closed Jan. 19, and the winner will be revealed on game day.

So are homemade ads an easy way out for advertisers?

Bloom said that there are two schools of thought on amateur projects. Some people think it's a great opportunity to give the public control, while others argue that it's just a cheap gimmick.

Either way, whether it's through consumer-generated ads, or rolling the dice on K-Fed's waning 15 minutes, advertisers are focused on one bottom line: raking in more business. By the looks of this year's Super Bowl hype on the Web, it's possible that they will.

"It all becomes part of the publicity machine leading up to this thing," said Bloom.

And this year, the publicity machine will remain in place even after the game. After the football players have all gone home, viewers can re-watch the ads online.

(Log on to to watch the Super Bowl ads on Monday, Feb. 5, 2007)

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