Super Bowl? Some Advertisers Say So What

Opting for 20 million eyeballs elsewhere.

Feb. 2, 2011 — -- Super Bowl XLV (for those of you who didn't pay attention in elementary school math class … that's 45) is all set to go down this Sunday in Arlington, Texas. The NFL is pulling out all of the stops. The venue will be the brand new Cowboy Stadium which currently holds the title of the largest domed stadium in the world. It also boasts the largest high-definition screen in the world (just what Texans needs, more "biggest" bragging rights). Christina Aguilera will sing the national anthem and The Black Eyed Peas will provide halftime entertainment.

Last year, according to Nielson, the Super Bowl was the most watched TV program in U.S. history. Ads have been sold out since last October, even at up to $3 million for a 30-second spot. So why would any advertiser, having previously experienced the euphoria of reaching more than 100 million viewers at one time, choose to not advertise this year?

There are seven companies who have advertised in the past but won't be competing with hot wings, cheese dip and bathroom breaks for our attention this year. The reasons vary, but tell the story of the economy, the growth of social media and the role of Super Bowl advertising in an advertising portfolio.

Even though I've usually seen all of the Super Bowl spots by Super Bowl Sunday, I'll still be in a comfortable chair, diet root beer in one hand and something artery-clogging in the other, watching it all unfold. I love to watch people watch TV commercials. It is, after all, my chosen field. But Papa John's, Denny's, Dr. Pepper, Monster, Intel and KGB will all be absent from our screens during the telecast.

KGB and Intel have chosen to, like the decision Pepsi made last year, invest their money in social media. KGB was an interesting first-timer last year with an ad in the Super Bowl only one year after they launched. As a texting service, they are very web savvy and used the spot to try to broaden the offering they first thought would appeal only to teens.

Intel has already launched its "Visual Life" campaign and is all over social media including short films produced for YouTube. Papa John's is using a stunt to garner press around the Super Bowl without actually coming up with the $3 million or so for a spot. They will be giving a free large pizza to anyone who signs up for their rewards program if the Super Bowl (and this has never happened) goes into overtime. Their exposure is reportedly 100,000 pizzas or about a $1 million, far short of the cost of a Super Bowl spot.

Monster might be growing up. Their original 1999 spot was groundbreaking and distinguished them in a sea of dot.coms and helped build the brand awareness they needed to succeed. Now, they must figure out where to go from here and how to add dimension to their offering and messaging.

Denny's has a new agency, so they are trying to figure it all out. Which leaves Universal Orlando. This one is a little trickier to get at. Last year, they used the Super Bowl to unveil the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park that by all accounts has done very well. It is important to note that the recent acquisition of NBC/Universal by Comcast has triggered a change of ownership clause allowing Blackstone to sell its stake. Even if that's not the direct reason, the acquisition itself may have muddied the waters on making a decision of this magnitude.

So, is this a trend? Will more advertisers in future years opt out of the Super Bowl in greater numbers in favor of ways to reach audiences in more intimate and lasting ways? Probably not.

There's an old joke about a man who promises not to utter a word so he and his wife can get a free airplane ride at a county fair. Saving the $10 was such a priority that he stayed mum after his wife fell out of the plane as it performed a maneuver. After landing, the irate pilot asked why the old man didn't speak up? He replied, "Ten dollars is ten dollars." 200 million eyeballs is 200 million eyeballs. Even though I suspect in future years marketing plans will expand and traditional media dollars will be increasingly shared with online and mobile media, the Super Bowl need not worry about advertisers.

Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.