NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Blue-chip advertisers that managed to kick the Super Bowl ad habit in recent years are suddenly flocking back to it with a vengeance, as if it were some wonder drug from which one cannot easily be weaned.
For the past two recession-plagued years, the Super Bowl ad roster has relied more strongly than is the norm on the second-string: first-time entrants just feeling their way into the gridiron classic and an odd assortment of competitors -- think advocacy-group Focus on the Family or precious-metals collector Cash4Gold.com -- that one would suspect might want to use narrower media for a more targeted message.
But next year's game, slated to be broadcast on News Corp.'s Fox in February and held in Arlington, Texas, is seeing a rush of interest from some of the nation's largest marketers.
Already, General Motors and Pepsi have signaled their intent to take part. GM, a veteran Super Bowl advertiser, has been absent from the game's ranks since 2009, as its economic woes made an appearance in this most-watched -- and most costly -- of TV events seem, well, unseemly. And Pepsi benched its beverages in last year's contest, citing a desire to promote a "Pepsi Refresh" project that thrived with social media and viral promotion.
"The public sentiment about sports and entertainment sponsorship has turned back into a positive light," said David Schwab, a VP at Octagon, an Interpublic Group of Cos. sports- and entertainment-marketing company. "The reach you get with the Super Bowl and the additional publicity and social-media play is unparalleled to anything in the market."
Advertiser demand for the event has been robust. A Fox Sports spokesman said the game is "more than 90%" sold out, noting "there are only a handful of units remaining." Fox had sold 80% of the game during its upfront sales this year, seeking between $2.8 million and $3 million for a 30-second spot, according to media buyers.
The pace is faster than anything witnessed in recent times. As Fox prepared to sell ads for the 2008 broadcast of the Super Bowl -- the last time the network handled these duties -- it hadn't sold 90% until late October of 2007. Indeed, it took CBS until September of 2009 to sell 70% of the game for 2010, when the economy weighed more heavily on advertisers' purse strings.
What's driving the push? More advertisers see live sports as a venue in which consumers watch the ads right away and don't zap past them with a DVR or ignore them with a click of the computer mouse. And the Super Bowl brings with it a reach that is impossible to duplicate with any other single TV broadcast. At a time when most video content seems to reach fewer people than ever before, the Super Bowl is reaching more. CBS's telecast of the event this year set a record for broadcast TV, reaching an average of 106.5 million people, topping the longstanding record set by CBS's telecast of the series finale of "MASH" in 1983.
There's also a sense that it's OK to spend again and go for the biggest audiences possible -- at least when the circumstances are correct. Pepsi , for instance, plans to drive awareness for Pepsi Max, its male-oriented diet beverage. "We are restaging the Pepsi Max brand and putting a tremendous amount of resources behind it, and we couldn't think of a better place to get that message out," said Jill Beraud, chief marketing officer, PepsiCo Beverages Americas, in an interview last week with Advertising Age.
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Contributing: Natalie Zmuda