More Marketers Stay Mum on Super Bowl Ad Buys

Apparently Embarrassed by $2.6 Million Price, Some Avoid Pre-Game Publicity

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK ( -- It's the country's highest-profile advertising showcase, drawing 90.7 million viewers who skip the TiVo and stay glued to their screens during the ads.
Photo: AP

While buying an ad slot on the Super Bowl once represented a feat of derring-do, the escalating price -- this year it's clocked in at $2.6 million -- is now a hazard as accountants and procurement types breathe down CMO necks.

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It's an unrivaled venue for sweated-over creative that is endlessly dissected on TV and radio talk shows, newspapers and blogs -- not to mention around office water coolers -- and viewed over and over on the internet. So why, then, are marketers suddenly shying away from the limelight when it comes to the Super Bowl?

Unusual quiet
With just three weeks to go -- game day is Feb. 4 -- only 13 advertisers have fessed up to buying spots in the big game. And of those, just a handful -- Anheuser-Busch, Chevrolet, Doritos and Diamond's Emerald Nuts and NFL -- have hyped their presence with pregame marketing.

The remainder have so far been quiet -- AIG, FedEx, CareerBuilder, GoDaddy, Honda, Snickers, Nationwide Insurance and Taco Bell. And not a single pharmaceutical, movie-studio or telecom brand has made its presence public.

Gun-shy CMOs?
An easy answer appears to be a monster created by the TV networks themselves: price. The rising cost of a Super Bowl spot every year has been an annual contest of brinkmanship for the networks. But while buying a slot on the Super Bowl once represented a feat of derring-do, the escalating price -- this year it's clocked in at $2.6 million -- is now a hazard as accountants and procurement types breathe down CMO necks.

"Some of the advertisers just don't want to say who they are," one CBS executive said. "This has something to do with creative and the dollars, the publicity about spending $2.6 million on a spot."

Of course, many advertisers aren't paying that. Prime real estate, such as spots in the first quarter, is most desirable and tends to get the highest prices, but depending on how many other commercials a marketer commits to, and where they are in the game, prices can vary greatly. This year buyers report buying time for around $2 million, and the costs work out even better after the broadcast networks sweeten the deal by throwing in cheaper pre- and postgame slots.

High expectations
The other drawback to the Super Bowl is also its attraction -- its visibility. Marketers get a huge audience (45 million households), but they also face unbelievably high expectations now that anyone with a mouse is an ad critic.

"$2.6 million is a lot to spend if the creative is panned," said Andrew Donchin, director-national broadcast, Carat. "It's a very powerful vehicle, but you better have something that's attention-grabbing -- better than ordinary."

This year several marketers -- Frito-Lay's Doritos, Chevrolet and the NFL -- bypassed their agencies by throwing contests asking consumers to submit their best ads for the Bowl.

80% of game time sold
The bar is so high, in fact, that marketers whose creative doesn't pan out sometimes simply hand their spots back to CBS. At this point the network has sold 80% of the time in the game, though CBS hasn't decided yet whether this year's Super Bowl will contain 59 or 60 scheduled ad units. If the show goes to 60, some 12 spots will remain unsold.

Those still dickering include blue-chip advertisers such as Sprint, AOL and General Motors, which may go beyond its commitment for Chevrolet. Microsoft is also in discussions. But these holdouts could be looking for cheaper, last-minute inventory.

"It's pacing similar to previous years," said John Bogusz, CBS exec VP-sports sales and marketing. "We do have inventory remaining. It's a big media event, and advertisers should take advantage."

He was also quick to point out the multiple exposures advertisers will receive this year through online play. CBS Sportsline is planning to make advertising available after the game for anyone who wants to see it.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Super Bowl draws 90.7 million households. In fact, that number represents total viewers; 45 million households tune in.
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