Super ads?


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 3:33 p.m.

The story lines are unabashedly goofy. Cavemen invent the wheel to transport a beer cooler made of stone, and a car buyer enlists the help of a tribal warrior in case he needs some extra negotiating leverage at the dealership.

For most of us, Super Bowl ads make fine entertainment. But for the advertisers who make and buy them, Sunday is white-knuckle time.

The blogging boom has created crowds of armchair critics; the price for a 30-second spot is up again, to $2.7 million; and a writers strike has wiped out many other opportunities to reach mass audiences by putting scripted dramas such as ‘‘Desperate Housewives’’ on hold.

Even against odds like these, many major marketing powers and a few first-timers couldn’t resist the opportunity of reaching more than 90 million people in a single shot — something increasingly hard to do in any medium.

Advertisers still love the Internet for its ability to deliver measured results from click-throughs and carve audiences into tiny segments. But only the largest of television’s events — the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the Oscars and the Grammys — have the muscle to pull in tens of millions of people in real time.

The placement is great if they have a winning ad, not so great if the ad tanks. Last year’s viewership of 93.2 million was close to the all-time record of 94.1 million set in 1996, and many believe that record could be surpassed this year.

The Super Bowl continues to draw new advertisers, including Planters packaged nut company, part of Kraft Foods Inc., as well as Cars.com, an online auto classified advertising company co-owned by the newspaper publishers Gannett Co., McClatchy Co., Tribune Co., Washington Post Co. and Belo Corp.

No neophyte in the advertising world, Kraft decided a Super Bowl spot was well worth the money last year as it began repositioning Planters beyond the $3 billion packaged nuts business. Planters now competes in the $20 billion market of salted snacks, which includes potato chips, pretzels and popcorn.

Tire maker Bridgestone Firestone North America, another first-timer, is jumping in with two spots and sponsorship of the halftime show.

One ad features a car accelerating toward Richard Simmons as he dances on a road at night. In the other, a woman screams as the car she’s riding in approaches a squirrel nibbling on an acorn.

Other big advertisers are venturing back to the Super Bowl after long absences. Audi is coming back to the game after nearly 20 years with a Godfather-themed spot. And Coca-Cola, whose main brand was back in the game last year for the first time since 1998, will have three or four spots this year.

Katie Bayne, chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola Co. in North America, said the company is currently testing 11 ads with viewers and will pick a winner to run on game day — a strategy that’s also used by Anheuser-Busch, traditionally the biggest advertiser in the game.

Bayne said Coke viewed TV events like the Super Bowl, big NASCAR races and the NCAA basketball tournament as ‘‘critical’’ for getting the company’s marketing message out.

Ratings from the game, being broadcast from Phoenix, are sure to boost Fox network, which is already well-positioned thanks to football and ‘‘American Idol,’’ the ratings powerhouse unaffected by the writers strike because it’s not scripted.

The $2.7 million for a 30-second spot Fox is getting is up from the $2.6 million CBS got last year.

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