Advertisers punt on Super Bowl

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Perennial Super Bowl advertisers and online recruiting rivals and plan to run spots during this year’s telecast on Feb. 3, but as many as three of the five b-to-b companies that advertised during last year’s game may stay on the sidelines.

Electronic Data Systems and Federal Express Corp. have confirmed that they are bypassing this year’s Super Bowl XXXVI telecast on Fox. Accenture, which used the 2001 Super Bowl as a platform to trumpet its name change from Andersen Consulting, is said to be waiting to see if prices fall far enough to make an encore appearance worthwhile, according to a person familiar with the situation. An Accenture spokesperson did not return phone calls by press time.

It has been widely reported that Fox has had difficulty selling spots for this year’s telecast. Fox had about 80% of the game’s inventory sold at press time but, to accomplish that, the network had reportedly dropped its asking price for 30 seconds to about $2 million from $2.5 million.

Recession blamed for slow sales

The slow sales have been blamed on the lingering advertising recession, the fallout from Sept. 11 and the presence of a similar advertising opportunity: the Winter Olympics. EDS has opted to spend a large chunk of its broadcast dollars on the Salt Lake City games.

"The Super Bowl worked miracles for us," said LaWanda Burrell, VP-global advertising for EDS, who points to 2 million hits on the EDS Web site the day after its "Cat Herders" ad aired in 2000. She also said that EDS received about 1 million hits on its site on Super Sunday in 2001 after airing its "Running of the squirrels" spot.

The goals of those Super Bowl ads were to build brand and present EDS as a company with a vision for e-business. "We wanted our target audience to be aware of the new EDS," Burrell said. "We shared with the audience who the new EDS was and built brand awareness."

Branding time is past

EDS is taking a pass on this year’s game, she said, because its marketing focus, like that of other companies, has moved from building brand to generating revenue.

"The reason we didn’t go back to the Super Bowl in 2002 is that we felt we’ve done a really good job telling the target audience who we are. Now we need to get more into the specifics of what we do."

To accomplish that, EDS will run about 50 ads during the Winter Olympics. "We felt this was a more effective venue for our message," Burrell said.

FedEx, a consistent Super Bowl advertiser, is bypassing the telecast because its new "Don’t worry. There’s FedEx for that" campaign broke in the fall.

"In the past we used the Super Bowl to launch new campaigns and new work," said Carla Richards, a marketing spokeswoman for FedEx. "We launched a new campaign in the late fall with five new spots. As for our marketing objectives, we’ve reached them already. Certainly, the Super Bowl has served us well in the past, and we will continue to evaluate using it in the future." and, two of the few dot-coms still standing after the Internet excesses of Super Bowl XXXIV, still believe the broadcast is an effective venue for them. Both are returning for a fourth consecutive Super Bowl. They will employ classic pull marketing to drive job seekers to their free Web sites. Businesses—their actual paying customers—place "help wanted" ads on the sites. will run a 30-second spot from its "Never settle" campaign, which debuted during the Bowl Championship Series this month., which is owned by TMP Worldwide Inc., will also advertise during the Winter Olympics.

Because of the company’s Olympics sponsorship, Peter Blacklow,’s senior VP-marketing, said it considered skipping the Super Bowl this year. "We had conversations about ‘Do we take off a year from the Super Bowl?’ But those conversations did not last long," he said. placed a Super Bowl spot because its ads have come to be anticipated like Pepsi’s and Budweiser’s. That’s an opportunity doesn’t want to pass up, Blacklow said. returns, which is in the process of being acquired by Yahoo! Inc., is returning to the Super Bowl because the game has paid dividends in past years.

It’s no exaggeration to say that HotJobs bet the company on the Super Bowl: During the 1999 game, it spent half of its annual revenue on a single 30-second spot. That spot, and the publicity that came along with it, caused a surge in traffic that HotJobs has built on and maintained, said Marc Karasu, the company’s VP-marketing and advertising.

Al Ries, chairman of brand consultancy Ries & Ries, contends there can be "diminishing returns" with advertising in consecutive Super Bowls. But HotJobs said that is not true in its case: A half hour after its ad aired during last year’s Super Bowl, traffic to its Web site surged 174%.

The bottom line, Karasu said, is that HotJobs uses the Super Bowl because it works. Its proximity to the start of the year makes it a natural because "many companies are hiring, and they have new hiring budgets," he said. "If the game was in June, maybe we wouldn’t do it."

And there’s one more factor about advertising on the Super Bowl that can’t be ignored: "To my knowledge," Karasu said, "it’s the only event where the commercials are as important as the show."

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