Now in its third year, "Talent Search" is the culmination of months of buildup-beginning in June with national children's auditions and traditionally unveiling a commercial featuring the winning child during the Super Bowl.
Last year, Oscar Mayer was one of the event's most visible sponsors, buying rights to the halftime show and the NFL Experience, a theme park attraction in New Orleans, along with a 60-second and at least two 10-second spots on the game telecast.
"We are not participating in the Super Bowl halftime show in '98," a company spokeswoman confirmed, "and we are evaluating other options for how we showcase [the commercial with the winning child] as we embark on our third year."
"Oscar Mayer is the NFL's longest-standing sponsor and remains an NFL sponsor, despite their decision regarding the Super Bowl halftime sponsorship," said an NFL spokesman. "We look forward to an active relationship with them this year, and we're bullish about our prospects on getting a new sponsor for the halftime show."
PRICE A FACTOR?
Although it was suggested the broadcast's sky-high price was to blame-Fox was getting a record $1.3 million per :30 last year-the spokeswoman denied cost was a factor. Next year's Super Bowl will be aired on NBC.
Another reason floated for the pullout of Oscar Mayer, a brand with a family-friendly image, was the halftime show's content, some of which was suited for mature audiences. Last year's entertainment included soul artist James Brown singing "Get Up, I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine" and rock group ZZ Top playing songs such as "Legs."
Last year, there was also considerable confusion over the choice of talent for the halftime show, causing Oscar Mayer to delay its sponsorship announcement.
The decision comes as somewhat of a surprise, given that Oscar Mayer VP-Marketing Steve Shanesy last year said Super Bowl XXX netted the company record results.
"We had very strong shares across the board during January 1996," he said in an earlier interview. "It was the company's biggest single increase in ad awareness ever."
More importantly, sales rose 6% during the month of January.
"Talent Search III" kicked off June 2, with a TV spot from J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago. Auditions begin June 18, with the company and its Wienermobile expected to hit 100 U.S. cities by Sept. 1.
A winner will be selected by Oscar Mayer and JWT in November, after an expected 85,000 auditions are reviewed.
Contributing: Jeff Jensen