NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Super Bowl has long been a roost dominated by big names such as Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, FedEx and General Motors. In 2009, that pecking order could be upended by a group of lesser knowns ranging from breakfast-on-the-go chain Denny's to flower-delivery service Teleflora.
The recession has brought with it a changing of the guard, of sorts, at the nation's biggest TV event of the year. Two longtime marketers -- GM and FedEx -- bowed out due to economic concerns. In their place stand a group of somewhat familiar names that aren't well-known as sponsors of the annual pigskin classic. Aside from Denny's and Teleflora, the list of Super Bowl "rookies" includes General Electric, Hulu, DreamWorks Animation and Mars' Pedigree.
"You continue to see your major year-in, year-out sponsors, but when they pull back, as GM has pulled back this year, then you're happy to have the one-offs," said Neal Pilson, a sports-TV consultant who is a former president of CBS Sports.
In recent years, first-timers have become a more important presence in the annual contest, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Rookie advertisers accounted for 26% of the lineup in 2005, up from 17% in 2004, TNS data shows; since that time, newbies have represented between 20% and 25% of the roster.
Add to the ranks this year a number of returning, but long-absent veterans: Both Monster and H&R block, on the Super Bowl ad sidelines since 2004, will be in the lineup Feb. 1. NBC will broadcast Super Bowl XLIII -- featuring the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers -- from Tampa, Fla.
"The first-timer is really where the Super Bowl marketplace exists," said Jeff Gagne, VP-account director at Havas' MPG, where he oversees sports buying. "You have a handful of the kind of automatic clients," such as movie studios. "It's when you lose an Anheuser or a Pepsi that you've got a really big problem."
There's no shortage of debuts in the big game. Emerald Nuts, a previously little-known brand from California's Diamond Foods, saw explosive results after a debuting in the Super Bowl in 2005. In a press release, the company said "Emerald snack nut sales rose 56%" following the appearance of an ad in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL, and the company re-upped for the 2006 match-up. Kraft Foods' Planters bought an ad in 2008, its first appearance in 10 years, after Emerald Nuts had sat out for a year.
For long-standing Super Bowl promoters such as Pepsi and Budweiser, being in the game is as much a part of the companies' overall face as the products they sell. Something would seem very much amiss if the Super Bowl contained no ads for Bud Light. But for first-timers and once-in-a-blue-moon returnees, the decision to get in often hinges on whether there is a sound business strategy in place -- a new and exciting product to promote, an under-recognized brand to shout about, or a change in business strategy or brand that needs to be understood by a massive amount of potential customers.
Denny's, for instance, will go to war against restaurant chains that sell "candy breakfasts" that mix sweet stuff with pancakes. The restaurant chain will tout its hearty eggs-and-bacon fare, and use the Super Bowl to place an emphasis on a much broader campaign.
Monster.com has recently redesigned its website and added new tools to its online jobs service; at a time of economic hardship, telling a broad audience about its new products could lure new customers.
Teleflora wants to remind flower buyers that its greens and roses come fresh in a vase, not packed in a box like those from certain rivals. With Valentine's Day on the horizon, the message could prove crucial during an important selling season.
General Electric will be talking about a new company innovation that could help update the nation's electric grid, said Judy Hu, global executive director-advertising and branding, at GE. "It's a great opportunity for us to use the Super Bowl to drive home a new message," Ms. Hu said.
Last few spots to fill
This year, NBC may count on these types of advertisers more than networks traditionally do. While NBC is telling media buyers it has sold "north of 90%," many buyers are convinced the network is having trouble unloading its last 8 to 14 spots, simply due to the economy. Marrying marketers with an important announcement to the event is a difficult task in any year, said MPG's Mr. Gagne.
"It's not a matter of trying to sell it. Are there enough of the right clients available?" he asked. "Right now, I'm sure it's as challenging a time as a network has ever faced in the Super Bowl."