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.
~ ~ ~
Contributing: Natalie Zmuda
Hear from Fortune 500 brands that have been forced to pivot as consumer preferences evolve, as well as entrepreneurs building brands from scratch to meet new consumer needs. This event peels apart the layers of brand building with a carefully crafted roster of top marketing, technology, and creative leaders.Learn more