NEW YORK -- Despite hitting a wall on Super Bowl ad sales, NBC is trying to hold the line on a $3 million price tag for a 30-second commercial, at least for now.
Before the economy began its plunge in late September, the network had fewer than 10 left of 67 30-second ad slots for the Feb. 1 broadcast but hasn't moved any since.
In a holiday season marked by bargain-basement deals on everything from autos to flat-screen TVs to blue-chip stocks, don't look for markdowns on Super Bowl ad time.
"(NBC has) less than double digits to sell right now and as troubling as things are out there, they are not discounting," says John Miles, a managing partner and negotiator for ad-buying firm MediaCom.
NBC has to move cautiously, because it does not want to give buyer's remorse to the companies that already bought ads — or have them come back demanding a rebate. It also would not want to tarnish the game's prestige as the world's grandest ad stage by running a clearance sale. The game is one of a handful of premium TV shows that attract a mega audience watching in real time. Last year's game lured 97.5 million viewers.
That's why game veterans Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, movie studios, GoDaddy.com, Cars.com, CareerBuilder and Monster, as well as rookie Pedigree pet food, committed to the game early on.
But the economy is taking a toll. Longtime advertiser FedEx has indicated it will not be in the game, because it doesn't think it's the right time for funny Super Bowl ads.
"There's a lot at stake for advertisers, more than there ever has been," says Seth Winter, senior vice president of sales and marketing for NBC Sports. "I understand that there is concern about perception. I think you still need to tell the world you're strong, and Super Bowl is shouting from the mountain top."
One option for NBC, if sales remain stagnant, is to go back to existing advertisers to take more time, perhaps in a deal sweetened with discounts or pre- or post-game bonuses.
But NBC can't count on existing advertisers to buy up the airtime. "There are pretty big head winds out there," says buyer Miles. "They have to be getting a little concerned."
One in the wings is GoDaddy.com, which is returning for a fifth year. It bought time for one ad but has two ready and is waiting to see what NBC might offer for a second spot.
A-B, recently bought by Belgium's InBev, however, is scaling back. It returns as the biggest advertiser with five minutes of ad time but has scaled back how many ads it will produce. It made more than two dozen last year to test and pick from. This year it will make 10 to 12 — barely more than it needs. Among them are multiple Clydesdale ads (directed by Joe Pytka) and a spot with late-night funny man Conan O'Brien.
PepsiCo has turned to new agency TBWA/Chiat/Day for ads to help make over its signature Pepsi-Cola brand. PepsiCo's Gatorade and Frito-Lay are also on board.
Coke is looking at ads for Coke Zero and its flagship Coca-Cola.