Still, NBC finds itself with as many as eight spots still open in the fourth quarter, an unusually high number to be holding with less than three weeks until kickoff.
Marketers shelling out more than $1 million per 30-second unit include Anheuser-Bush Cos., Nike, MasterCard International and Pepsi-Cola Co.
Kraft General Foods' Oscar Mayer, a longtime National Football League sponsor, is paying over $2.5 million to sponsor a halftime show produced by Radio City Music Hall Productions and headlined by Diana Ross. Oscar Mayer and agency, J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, will produce a 60-second spot during the game to promote the league's "Play Football" youth marketing program. Other aspects of Oscar Mayer's marketing support are still being hammered out.
"What could go better with watching football than eating a hot dog?" said Jim Schwebel, VP-corporate sponsorship at NFL Properties. "From our perspective, their activities fit strategically with what our primary objective in 1996 is-to develop the youth audience."
$1.1M PER :30
NBC is said to be getting an average of $1.1 million per 30-second unit and close to $1.3 million for some, a slight increase over what ABC got last year.
The unsold ad units are more a reflection of the current ad marketplace than a rejection of the Super Bowl, traditionally the year's biggest TV viewing event and a showcase for new campaigns and blockbuster ads.
A bullish upfront sales season has instigated a depressed scatter market.
Still, "if they have three to four units left, I'd be a little nervous if I were NBC. [But] if they have seven to eight units, I'd be very nervous," said one network TV buyer, noting that the last time the Super Bowl marketplace collapsed was in 1992, when CBS managed a sell-out by packaging some men's college basketball inventory into its last-minute Super Bowl sales.
TAKING A PASS
NBC's broadcast of the '96 Summer Olympics is also siphoning off significant ad cash, leading Lee Apparel to bow out of the Super Bowl after three years.
"The Olympics affected our decision to be in the Super Bowl, and I'm sure it's affecting other companies in other categories," said Ellen Rohde, Lee VP-advertising and strategic planning. "We have to be in the Olympics. It delivers comparable numbers but more of our demographic: women 18 to 34."
Others are grumbling about the Super Bowl's seven-figure price tag and the added marketing support needed for the investment to pay off.
American Honda Motor Co. bought three units in last year's Super Bowl but regretted not backing up the investment outside the broadcast, said Gerry Rubin, CEO at Honda agency Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. Honda didn't come back.
"It's getting pretty cost-prohibitive to be in this game, and it keeps going up," said Donna Compton, director of media for Soloflex, which had two spots last year, but also won't return.
ON THE SIDELINES
Other advertisers from '95 that have yet to buy in include Chrysler Corp., HBO, National Pork Producers Council, No Fear Apparel, Principal Financial Group, Taco Bell, Warner Bros. and Wilson Sporting Goods Co.
Creative details are beginning to emerge for some ads that will be in the game.
Ford is on board this year to push its 1997 f-150 pickup. Toyota Motor Sales is expected to advertise its redesigned 4Runner sport-utility. And Quaker State Corp. has bought one unit in the third quarter and two others, one before and one following the game, to launch a new fuel treatment product from Slick 50, a company it acquired last spring.
Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Pictures are promoting new films, while Primestar Partners will come back to launch a campaign from Alder Boschetto Peebles & Partners, New York, that's part of a $60 million marketing drive to double its subscriber roster to 2 million in 1996.
The Super Bowl will also see some high-profile category skirmishes. MasterCard International will put two new spots from Ammirati & Puris/Lintas, New York, up against NFL sponsor Visa USA's two new 45-second spots from BBDO Worldwide, New York, promoting its Summer Olympics sponsorship. Fellow NFL rights holder McDonald's Corp. will be challenged by commercials from Pizza Hut.
SUPER BOWL ROOKIES
First-time buyers include Kinko Corp. and Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp.
Nike bought three units for Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., to play with. Pepsi-Cola will fill its four minutes with creative from BBDO Worldwide, New York, including new spots directed by Joe Pytka featuring NFL star Deion Sanders and supermodel Cindy Crawford. Frito-Lay will air a BBDO-created campaign for Baked Lay's starring supermodels Vendela, Naomi Campbell and Kathy Ireland and sponsor the Baked Lay's Kickoff Show.
Anheuser-Busch Cos. is expected to break a humorous spot for Bud Ice from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, if the agency gets the commercial done on time. The spot marks Goodby's first work for A-B.
And, of course, there'll be a new ad from perennial bowl advertiser Master Lock Co.
Contributing to this story: Alice Z. Cuneo, Kate Fitzgerald, Mark Gleason, Leah Haran, Bradley Johnson, Joe Mandese, Ray Serafin, Alan Solomon and Ira Teinowitz.