Super Bowl: It's a big (ad) deal

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To get to the Super Bowl you need committed management, the right players, a smart, flexible game plan and a lot of hard work-as an advertiser as well as a football team.

Everybody knows the Super Bowl has become the biggest advertising showcase in the world, with agency creatives' performances scrutinized almost as closely as those of the players. But the real grunt work-the negotiations between marketers, their media shops and the network-start months or even years earlier.

A lot is riding on the outcome: Certain companies, like Anheuser-Busch and movie studios, make the Super Bowl a centerpiece of their marketing efforts, while others depend on the game to launch a product or make a big splash in a crucial year.

Anheuser-Busch, a Super Bowl advertiser since 1979, has bought national exclusivity in the beer category since 1989. This year, the company is buying five minutes of airtime (10 spots) and will, as always, promote at least two of its core brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, and will be the first advertiser in the first break.

Anheuser-Busch's Tony Ponturo, VP-global media and sports marketing, said the beer company begins its multi-year Super Bowl buys just after each network ties up its individual agreements with the National Football League. "We go with the rate. We pretty much know where the marketplace will be."

A-B Discount

A-B expects year-on-year rate increases. This year Fox Network is charging $2.4 million for a 30-second spot, up from CBS's $2.25 million. "We get a discount to the going rate," Mr. Ponturo said. "We pretty much set the rate with Fox two to three years ago and then the marketplace dictates whether it's higher or lower; mostly it's higher. At the end of the day if it fell, than that would catch our attention. If it moved five, 10, 15% plus or minus, we'd say this is what we think it should be."

"The key for everybody is about where the placement is," said one major media buyer. "Ninety-nine percent want it in the first half." What a marketer pays, however, is no guarantee of the best spots. Those slots go to long-term advertisers who buy big and buy early.

Since first-half breaks and "A" positions (the first spot in a break) are the most sought after and thought to be easiest to recall, marketers go all out to secure them. The A position in the first, second and third quarters is most in demand.

Research provided by New York-based consultancy Media IQ, shows that Anheuser-Busch bought the most spots in the game last year, nine, and received four A spots. By comparison, America Online was the second-largest spender buying six spots and receiving only one A position.

While Mr. Ponturo said Budweiser was more than happy with its first break positioning, he said spots that ran in the second and third quarters were often more highly rated by the audience in post-game creative polls.

Novartis-owned Ciba Vision is one of a number of marketers that will appear on the Super Bowl for the first time this year. It has also secured a prime position: the second spot in the first break. According to Karen Gough, president-North America, Ciba Vision began its talks in the summer and executives close to negotiations said it paid "a little bit less" than $2.4 million. The contact-lens company negotiates through WPP Group's Mindshare. It plans to promote the product 02Optix, a breathable lens with five times more oxygen than other brands. A special "director's cut" of an ad created by Grey Global Group's Grey, New York, will air during the game.

Ms. Gough, a former marketing executive with Earthlink, Coca-Cola Co., Pepsi-Cola Co. and the National Football League Properties, said the company decided on a Super Bowl spot because the product launch required a suitably major event. The company's product is primarily targeted at women, reflecting the fact that the game is a draw for both genders. Ciba Vision is also committed to airing its campaign on Fox and other networks once the Super Bowl is over.

She has no concerns about post-game scrutiny of the commercial. "We didn't create the ad to win an award or register high in the USA Today poll. We are highly confident it will resonate with our core target."

Half-Time Sponsor

Ameriquest Mortgage Co., another first-time advertiser, tied up a $15 million deal with the NFL during the summer, said Kevin Morefield, senior VP-strategy and marketing. Mr. Morefield said the figure includes its full-year NFL sponsorship, the half-time show and two Super Bowl ad spots.

"This is the first time we've been in the Super Bowl. We've been around for 25 years and we're trying to grow into a full-service mortgage company. We're No. 6, we'd like to be No. 1 and we figure what better way to let people know we're out there." The company brainstormed 40 ad concepts with its Omnicom Group agency, DDB, New York, and will shoot four spots and choose two.

Movie studios also look for early mover advantage and, as regular Super Bowl advertisers, go to the top of the list for the prized A spots. Last year Buena Vista Pictures secured two, as did Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures, while Universal Pictures got only one.

The game is something of a must-buy for studios-the timing of the game makes it a major launch pad for Memorial Day releases-so prices tend to be high. Executives close to the negotiations said Paramount Pictures paid nearly $2.4 million for its two spots to promote "War of the Worlds" and "The Longest Yard." Paramount Pictures wouldn't comment on what it paid or confirm the movies. Warner Bros. is expected to promote its upcoming releases: "Batman Begins," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The Dukes of Hazard."

Disney's Buena Vista Pictures' spots will promote "The Pacifier," according to executives familiar with talks. Universal Pictures has not decided which movie to promote.

Not everyone gets in early though, and a handful of advertisers take their chances in the weeks preceding the big game. Late entrants tend to be Internet outfits and pharmaceutical companies. "There are ways to do it," said one executive who warned there's a huge risk attached to that buying strategy if marketers really need to be in. According to one media buyer, a CBS executive managed to close a sale on the bus on the way to the game last year. Buyers say those spots can be had for as little as $1.7 million for :30.

Last Minute deals

Mr. Ponturo said A-B has bought last-minute spots if it has quality creative that it wants to showcase and the prices are conducive. Yahoo is thought to be another Internet advertiser considering the Super Bowl this year, though the company would not comment. and Expedia both advertised last year, but were mum on plans for this year. Masterfoods USA, the parent of M&M's, is another that has previously gambled on prices falling low enough to make it worth its while.

Exclusivity is another negotiating point. "It's Anheuser-Busch and movie studios that really care about the competition," said one major media buyer. A-B also protects its exclusivity in pre-game and post-game shows, added Mr. Ponturo.

But exclusivity comes at a price. Buyers and sellers claim that most companies just can't afford to commit to the nine- or 10-spot requirement of national game exclusivity. Meanwhile, exclusivity in each pod (or commercial break) requires a commitment of three or four spots, though that's dependent on the category. One network executive said there's a difference between closing out a small category, such as online careers sites, and bigger ones, such as automotive or retail. Ameriquest expects other banks will be in the game, but did not expect rivals would be advertising mortgage services.

While the first half of the game is key for many advertisers, opinion is split over the advantages. The first half is slightly more expensive, but the second half could see all the action. Last year the close game between the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers meant a significant increase in viewership in the final quarter of the game. Aaron Cohen, Horizon Media's exec VP-director of broadcast, believes that the third quarter can be a pivotal point in the game and thus a time when viewers are watching closely.

General Motors Corp. brand Cadillac bought its spots as part of a one-year extension of its three-year deal with NFL and said it would probably advertise in the second half of the game. Cadillac is the presenting sponsor of the MVP Award during the post-game broadcast. Last year, GM bought five spots.

Buyers say pre-game spots get progressively more expensive and range between $50,000 to $100,000 to $500,000 depending on how close they are to the main event. The price is also dependent on whether the marketer also buys the game. Marketers sometimes get a discount on pre-game or post-game spots if they pony up the $2.4 million. This year Ford Division bought 90 seconds in the final pod before the game. Pizza Hut will also appear in the pre-game show.

Ratings for the program after the Super Bowl largely depend on interest in the particular show. CBS did well airing the "Survivor All-Star" edition last year, reaching a 17.9 rating and 32 share and around 33.5 million viewers. ABC's "Alias" did not fare as well in 2003, gaining a 10.6 rating and a 20 share or 17 million viewers.This year Fox plans on airing "The Simpsons," which features Homer `s own half-time act.

Other ways to gain bargains include taking the local route. Horizon Media bought local spots for fast-food chain Jack in the Box. Local stations sell 30-second Super Bowl spots for well below $1 million.

But Andy Donchin, senior VP-national broadcast, at Carat, part of Aegis Group, notes, "The Super Bowl should be saluted for what it is. It is such a visible event and I want it to continue to pull great ratings and get the attention it does."

contributing: marc graser and jean halliday

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