The social appeal: Betting on super sets

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The Super Bowl teams may already be decided, but for big-screen TV marketers and retailers the final-week playoff is just beginning.

The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association estimates 1.4 million TVs will be sold this year for the Super Bowl, but even more promising is the social appeal of flat TVs for events like the big game. Sixty-two percent of consumers said they would host more social activities to watch sporting events, award ceremonies and special events if they owned a plasma TV, according to a recent study conducted for Panasonic.

"I'm a little skeptical as to how many people will be making a purchase of this magnitude tied to a single game," said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for NPD Group. "Although anecdotally there seems to be some evidence."

In the Panasonic survey, men indeed seemed ardent about their desire for the new plasma TVs: Fifty percent said they would allow in-laws to visit whenever they wanted; 36% said they would do household chores for a year; and another 57% said they would allow their significant other to choose all vacation destinations if they could get a plasma TV. (The respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.)

Translating those "wants" to sales is the end goal this week for retailers and manufacturers. Best Buy packaged an integrated campaign to pitch its home theaters leading up to the Super Bowl. A "Play Book" mailer tips consumers on "what to say to score a home-theater system," while TV ads uses a hip home-theater setup on Best Buy yellow background with dance-beat music and a voice-over tease, "Do you want me?"

"Reading the paper today, I saw a lot of ads for TVs and talking about delivering the TV in time for the Super Bowl. ... We see an opportunity in delivering the TV as part of a home theater package," said Ruby Anik, VP-advertising for Best Buy.

Circuit City is running TV spots that promise buyers "Big deals for the big game" with guaranteed delivery in time for the Super Bowl. Even Amazon has joined the fray with an e-mail campaign urging customers to take advantage of its big electronics sale and advice to "Get geared for the Super Bowl." Less visible, but still making a concerted effort for Bowl sales, are the manufacturers behind the scenes promoting through retail partners.

the good news

"We tend to do more product-focused advertising in January and February to direct our message to the person who is really ready to buy a TV," said Bob Scaglione, Sharp senior VP-marketing of consumer electronics.

"The Super Bowl is an excellent opportunity to promote and raise awareness, particularly in the midst of the transition to digital and high definition," said NPD's Mr. Rubin.

The good news for TV makers and retailers is that the Super Bowl lift is expected to continue upward as consumer demand for new and bigger sets burgeons; high-definition viewing gains interest from cable companies and programmers; and set prices drop through 2005, particularly on LCD models.

The Consumer Electronics Association predicts $5.3 million in flat-panel sales in 2005, almost double the 2004 total of $2.8 million, and five times 2003 sales of the less than $1 million.

"We're expecting the average number of TVs per household to go up over the next five years," said Sean Wargo, CEA director-industry analysis. "People are buying more TVs and putting them in rooms they may not have in the past because (the flat-panel TV is) easier to put one in a bedroom or dining room or kitchen now."

Further glad tidings for TV makers and sellers is that certain electronics peripherals will also get a lift, thanks to the relative complexity of digital and high definition TV viewing. Those include audio Surround Sound systems, HD receivers and installation services.

Fast Facts

What men will do for a plasma TV

50% said they would allow in-laws to visit whenever they wanted

36% said they would do household chores for a year

57% said they would allow their significant other to choose all vacation destinations

Source: Panasonic survey (respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer).

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