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San Francisco. San Diego. Sans dramatico?

Super Bowl XXIX is predicted to be a pitiless 49ers rout and advertisers committed to $2.04 million a minute (a rate equaled only by the Department of Health & Human Services and the O.J. Simpson defense team) are already feeling their sphincters tighten.

Two marketers can relax, however. One is the Publishers Clearing House, which is using a post-game spot to give away $10 million, live, and couldn't get a bigger audience if it opened Judge Ito's secret manila envelope while reading from Heidi Fleiss' Rolodex. The other is Arthur Andersen & Co., which is on the air right now advertising its absence from the festivities.

"It's the media event of the year," says a voice-over as a camera circles and zooms slowly in on the gridiron of an empty Joe Robbie Stadium, where a lone groundskeeper applies the chalk yardlines. "Aren't you a little early?" he asks, and the voice-over resumes: "At Arthur Andersen, we'd love to be on the big game. However, the people we want to get this message to will probably be there, and would miss our commercial. So we're running it now, which demonstrates the philosophy of our business advisers. When you're smart, you always find a way to play."

Then the tag: "Arthur Andersen. Where smart people end up."

Very clever. Andersen and Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, exploit Super Bowl hype, needle the competition and demonstrate their business sense all at once-at pennies on the targeted-exposures dollar vs. game-day rates.

To gain Super Bowl watchers' extremely divided attention for 30 seconds now costs more than $1 million, plus production, which typically exceeds a million bucks.

That's "exceed," as in excess. Not "succeed," as in success.

Since 1985, when Apple Computer produced the lemon called "Lemmings," at least one advertiser per year has turned up with a monstrously overproduced, underimpressive commercial spectacle. Last year the lalapalooza would have to be Alamo rental car's 2-minute odyssey/fantasy/boondoggle. But the runner-up may have been Andersen's rival accounting/consulting firm, Coopers & Lybrand. What was extravagant there wasn't the production; it was the media buy. Of the 100 million viewers in the rate base, approximately 99.995 million were not prospects for international consulting services. (Among the remaining 5,000, according to data the Ad Review staff just made up right now, 1,065 were in the bathroom, 833 were grabbing a beer and 3,102 weren't watching because they-as wryly observed now by Andersen-were at the Super Bowl.)

C&L's ostensible message was about leadership, but the subtext was audacity-i.e., they will go beyond the obvious and linear to solve business problems. And indeed the business world took notice, but many prospects no doubt wondered how careful such audacious consultants would be in spending the clients' money.

It was this profligate and ostentatious display that Andersen implicitly ridicules here, and does so quite well. The simple, cunning concept and arresting cinematography more than compensate for the clumsy, heavy-handed copy.

Of course, now that the firm has written off the Super Bowl as overrated, San Diego will almost certainly come from behind in the fourth quarter to win 34-31 in overtime. Because there is no accounting for fate.

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy E-Mail at EFPB35A.

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