Last-minute Super Bowl spots going cheap

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Super Bowl advertising on CBS was in fire sale mode this week, according to marketers who bought into the game at the eleventh hour.

Prices were dropping so much that Universal Pictures made a last-minute decision to buy a 30-second spot in the post game for the action film "The Fast and the Furious." The spot will run right before the start of the much anticipated, "Survivor: The Australian Outback." Universal already bought an in-game spot for "The Mummy Returns."

"It wouldn't surprise me if these last-minute buys were significantly below the $2 million dollar mark," said a media agency executive, who purchased a block of the game for a high-profile advertiser.

Brands such as Dentyne, Motel 6 and IBM, attracted by lower-than-usual sticker prices, are said to have snapped up last minute spots. The buys are so last minute, in fact, that the marketers don't even have new creative to fill some of the half-minute segments and are running old advertising. CBS sold a 15-second spot for the launch of Dentyne's new Arctic Chill chewing gum directly to the manufacturer Pfizer Warner Lambert. The creative from Bates Worldwide, New York features a steamy pool room scene between a man and a woman--a spot that has been on air since October. "It demonstrates the benefit for the product," said Kaki Hinton, senior director of advertising services-Warner Lambert Consumer Group, a division of Pfizer Inc. Pfizer has never advertised in the Super Bowl before.

A media executive familiar with the deal said that the sale of an odd unit proved that "CBS definitely needed to unload inventory." Super Bowl spots are traditionally :30 or :60. The executive speculated that the network will have to run a :15 house ad to play against the Dentyne spot.

A marketing executive at another blue chip brand that is advertising heavily in the game was dismayed to hear that other brands were coming into it with old creative. "They'll get lost in the blast," said the marketer, who had all new work for the show. "You can't run old stuff in the Super Bowl."

Another big brand that is already in the game rushed to pick another spot when it heard prices were so low. The company was negotiating for :30 third quarter position for approximately $1.5 million. CBS has said that the average sale price this year is $2.3 million. Last week, they finally backed off the deal. "We decided against it at the last minute," said the company's marketing director. "There was a bidding war with people offering to pay a higher amount. I heard the spot was sold."

Dana McClintock, VP-communications at CBS, acknowledged that advertisers were getting better prices closer to game day. "The remaining inventory was in the fourth quarter," he said. But Mr. McClintock denied that the pricing was as low as advertisers were saying. "Everybody's trying to make the Super Bowl into a story about the economy," he opined. "We're very satisfied with the outcome." He said that the network sold its last spot this week.

The American Legacy Foundation, the group created by state attorneys general as part of their settlement with tobacco makers with the aim of providing anti-smoking messages to youth, just announced it had bought two spots on the Super Bowl to target tobacco smoking. Mr. McClintock said American Legacy was not a last-minute buyer, nor did they pick up inventory from an advertiser that dropped out. "They've been in the game for a while," he said. "They just didn't say anything about it."

The spots, which will air in the fourth quarter, include one new spot and a second spot produced by the Massachusetts tobacco control program. Unlike the Legacy's "truth" campaign, the new spots carry the American Legacy Foundation name. Both spots were produced by Arnold Worldwide's Arnold Communications, Boston.

And Frito-Lay will bring back the "Doritos Girl" for its spot during this year's Super Bowl. The 30-second ad, from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, features beauty Ali Landry twisting hither and thither to catch new Doritos with more Nacho Cheese from an automatic tennis ball machine. In a 1998 Super Bowl appearance, Ms. Landry was able to catch flying Doritos 3Ds from a laundromat, while in 1999 she set off sprinklers eating Doritos in a college library.

Contributing: Stephanie Thompson

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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