Super Bowl

Super Bowl Marketers Enraged by Nip Slip

Half-Time Show Stunt Upstages Ads as Water-Cooler Talk

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A host of major marketers were fuming last week after gambling millions on Super Bowl spots only to be upstaged by Janet Jackson's bare breast.

The halftime incident "overshadowed great advertising for that whole water-cooler factor," said Chris Carroll, VP-marketing at Subway Restaurants Franchisee Advertising Trust Fund. "There was less conversation about the ads and more about the halftime show," said H&R Block VP-Creative and Media Services Karl Ploeger, which ran a commercial once again featuring singer Willie Nelson on Super Bowl XXXVIII.

"We have received numerous inquiries about our participation in the game," said H&R Block's Mr. Ploeger. "That is not the kind of response you want." He added that the halftime antics "will certainly come up in conversations when we discuss our participation next year." (This year's broadcast was on CBS; News Corp.'s Fox network will broadcast the event in 2005.)

Janet Jackson attracted double the amount of U.S. press mentions than the Super Bowl commercials, according to media-research firm Carma International. However, the company also found that Super Bowl commercials alone attracted more press than last year; 596 stories in 2004 compared with 317 in 2003 (see chart, lower left).

The "costume malfunction," moreover, raised questions from marketers about the state of TV programming in general. "It just shows a lack of due diligence, or just people in charge who don't get it-people who don't understand the scope of the audience of people who are watching this," Mr. Carroll said. "Was somebody too lazy to look at who the overall audience is?" he asked. "It is infuriating that somebody didn't think that through."

In fact, according to Nielsen Media Research, the Super Bowl reached 45 million homes and 89.8 million persons. Of them, 12 million viewers were between the ages of 6 and 17.

`higher standard'

Mr. Carroll said the Federal Communications Commission should use this incident as grounds for taking a look at what's on prime time TV in general, noting that advertisers are in a Catch-22 situation. "What are we supposed to do? Go on advertising on shows that no one is watching? They need to set a higher standard."

"The Super Bowl is no place for those kind of stunts," said Mark Laneve, general manager-Cadillac which commissioned Publicis Groupe's Troy, Mich.-based Chemistri to produce ads showing its car speeding through water.

Some were politic in their response. "The NFL is a wonderful partner and we're going to work with them again to prevent something like this happening again," said a spokesman for Pepsi-Cola Co., which has featured sexy sirens Britney Spears in the U.S. and Pink and Beyonce in European ads.

America Online, a unit of Time Warner, which sponsored the Super Bowl halftime show and was forced by the breast baring to cancel plans to run the concert online, declined to comment on reports it is seeking a make-good from CBS. A spokeswoman said only: "Our online poll did extremely well. We had 3.5 million votes compared with 600,000 the previous year."

Meanwhile advertisers who didn't buy spots feel justified in their decision. Connie Weaver, exec VP-public relations, marketing and brand AT&T, said the company's $200 million repositioning campaign was launched Feb. 7 instead. "The Super Bowl is the last place I would launch," she said. "So many people are competing for time and attention. There are much more effective ways to do it."

One savvy marketer, music channel Fuse, bought an ad in the New York Post last week to capitalize on attacks on MTV Networks, the Viacom unit which produced the halftime show. The one-off print ad from independent shop Amalgamated, New York, read that the channel would make a donation to the Institute For the Development of Advanced Double Adhesive Nipple Tape in support of MTV. Fuse's new temporary slogan is "Give the Breast a Rest."

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