NEW YORK -- Victoria's Secret is back as a Super Bowl advertiser for the first time since 1999.
The chain's first foray into the game showed the power of a TV-Web tie-in and stretched what was considered Super Bowl fare. The lingerie retailer's return is likely to draw scrutiny again, however, because the game's ads have been closely watched for taste and content since the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction of 2004.
"Somebody will make noise about it just as they do another dozen commercials," says Ed Razek, chief creative officer for Victoria's Secret. "If you are in the business of lingerie and supermodels, you do an ad about lingerie and supermodels."
This year's ad, however, is coyly G-rated. Supermodel Adriana Lima is modest by Victoria's Secret standards as she sits in a chair tossing a football and flirting. The theme: the games men and women play.
"It has a very flirty, sexy tone but is different from our other ads," says Jill Beraud, chief marketing officer.
Says Razek, "This ad is classy. This isn't GoDaddy.com." GoDaddy, back for a fourth-consecutive Super Bowl, is expected again to flaunt buxom women.
Victoria's Secret's first Super Bowl ad promoted its online fashion show. The ad lured more than a million people to the site, which crashed. These days, the Victoria's Secret site can draw that many daily.
The retailer bought time in the Feb. 3 game, for which 30-second slots are going for up to $2.7 million, to drive Valentine's Day sales. It is the chain's second-biggest sales period behind Christmas.
The retailer needs a Valentine boost. It struggled through the recent holidays, as consumers spent cautiously, and fashion lingerie competition continues to be heated. Its parent, Limited Brands, reported last week an 8% decline in comparable-store sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 5 vs. the period a year earlier.
Buyers for the two holidays are about 40% male, vs. 95% women the rest of the year. That makes the huge Super Bowl audience appealing — about 60% male but still including more women than watch the Oscars.
"These are the only two times of the year when we talk to both men and women," Beraud says.
The ad will be shown first at a VIP party on the game's eve in Phoenix. At the event, Victoria's Secret also will release its annual "What is Sexy?" list. New England quarterback Tom Brady, who may be in the game, is no stranger to Victoria's Secret models (he dates Gisele Bündchen) and three years ago made the inaugural list, which features sexy people and trends.
Razek said he wrote the ad in three minutes and shot the commercial in 20. "It just came together in this kismet moment where everything converges."