FOOD ADS PLAY BIGGER ROLE IN SUPER BOWL MIX: HEINZ, HORMEL, M&M/MARS AMONG THOSE ON BIG GAME

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The Super Bowl is still a bastion of beer and financial advertising, but packaged foods will take a bigger bite of the ad time this year.

"It's a party," Bruce Blair, VP-director of sports media for Leo Burnett Co.'s StarCom Media Services, Chicago, said of the Super Bowl. "Advertisers like Frito-Lay can reach consumers in the atmosphere in which their products are being used."

The $1.3 million per 30-second spot price tag and huge reach of 130 million to 135 million people make the Super Bowl a standard venue for huge new-product pushes or promotions, the reason why food advertisers such as H.J. Heinz Co., Hormel Foods and M&M/Mars increasingly are flocking to the game.

IMPRESSING THE TRADE

"If part of your agenda is to impress the trade, franchisees or purchasing agents, the Super Bowl has some value," Mr. Blair said.

Heinz, for example, is using the Super Bowl as a forum to kick off its $20 million campaign for ketchup, a return to advertising for a brand that hasn't had media support for several years. The high-profile buy is aimed at communicating to shareholders and the financial community that Heinz is following through on its commitment.

For a small, $20 million brand like E. McIlhenny Sons Corp.'s Tabasco sauce, which is running its award-winning "Mosquito" spot nationally for the first time, the exposure can give a lift with the grocery trade.

SCORING WITH RETAIL

Bob Scarpelli, vice chairman-chief creative officer at DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, said a big reason Anheuser-Busch's Bud Bowl campaign -- now in its 10th year -- has been so enduring is because it scores high with the retail trade. "It allows wholesalers to walk into an account and get display space," he said.

"It's not just that there's more food advertising on the Super Bowl," said Mr. Blair. "But that more food advertisers are willing to make a big one-time expenditure to make a splash."

That includes Hormel, a first-time Super Bowl advertiser using the game to promote its new chili with a commercial that's a takeoff on car advertising.

Candymaker M&M/Mars has been on the Super Bowl since 1994, but upgraded its buy this year to the game itself, from pre-game time. Its four spots will hype its M&M's millennium promotion (AA, Nov. 24).

A TIME TO PARTY

The Super Bowl was a good fit for M&M's because it's the third-biggest party occasion in the U.S., after Christmas and Halloween, said a Mars spokeswoman.

"Regardless of age and sex, it's watched by everyone. It's got universal appeal," she said.

But the appeal isn't all that universal, according to some, especially for advertisers of household foods, still largely bought by women.

"If you are a food advertising to women, that money can go a long way toward a frequency schedule on cable or Lifetime," said Mr. Blair.

Indeed, at least two big food advertisers opted out of the big game this year -- Kraft Foods' Oscar Mayer unit and the National Pork Producers Council.

"We felt we could invest in more year-round advertising rather than invest so much in a national event," said a spokeswoman for Oscar Mayer Foods, which for the past three years used the Super Bowl as the crowning moment of its Talent Search promotion.

The pork producers, also a three-year advertiser, dropped out this year "because we are no longer pursuing an event strategy," said a spokesman.

EVENT-FOCUSED BUY

"The Super Bowl is event-focused, and if you don't have an event, the buy is a huge mistake," said an executive close to General Mills, who noted that it bought a spot several years ago for $900,000 "before they came to their senses" and tried unsuccessfully to unload it.

The time was being discounted to $700,000 before Big G gave up and ran a Wheaties commercial.

Still, food is one of the few product categories to increase Super Bowl time this year.

Fast-food restaurants will have a noticeably lower profile this year. McDonald's Corp., a big buyer in previous games, is a holdout, observers said, because it's locked into an expensive french fry marketing war.

It's believed that the only big chain on the game will be Pizza Hut, a unit of Tricon Global Restaurants. Tricon's Taco Bell chain tried to buy last-minute ad time, but none was available.

The automotive category also has several players absent this year: American Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. USA and Porsche North America.

GRAND PRIX, FIREBIRD IN GAME

General Motors Corp., which ran a Cadillac Catera :45 last year, is back this year for Pontiac. Its Grand Prix and Firebird models are getting a new :30 each; Grand Prix is the name sponsor of the post-game show.

The division "wanted to use the Super Bowl to try to keep up the momentum from the 1997 launch of Grand Prix," said Bob Kraut, advertising manager of the Pontiac-GMC Division.

Auto-By-Tel Corp., an Internet car-buying service, is in the big game again this year because its debut last year was so successful.

"Car purchase requests increased by 50% immediately after the Super Bowl" last year on the marketer's site (www.autobytel.com), said Betsy Isroelit, co-creative director at agency RBI Communications, Los Angeles.

For Hollywood, the Super Bowl has solidified its position as the most powerful vehicle TV can provide for new films. This year, Walt Disney Co. will support "Armageddon" with a :60 and Sony Corp. will tout "Zorro" with a :30.

A-B HAS 8 SPOTS

In beer, A-B has category exclusivity during the game and will run eight :30s.

Miller, locked out of the broadcast, is running three :60s and two :30s for Miller Lite during the pre-game show, followed by a :30 in the post-game show.

"A lot of our consumers are 21-to-28-year-olds and it's a big day for them," said a Miller spokeswoman. "It's not just a 3-hour game."

American Express Co., MasterCard International and Visa USA also will be present during and around the game. Visa, running a :60 it won't discuss, was the only one of the trio to advertise during the Super Bowl last year.

MasterCard, back after skipping last year's game, is hyping its recently launched "Priceless Moments" campaign with two spots that will go into regular rotation after Jan. 25.

Contributing: James B. Arndorfer, Jean Halliday, Jeff Jensen, Louise Kramer.

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