Editorial: Not exactly bowled over

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It's the Super Bowl of advertising, the big event where sponsors get 30 seconds to bowl over a nation with truly inspired creativity. But brace yourself for mediocrity. Too many advertisers and agencies will fumble the play.

On the surface, all's well with Feb. 1's telecast. Advertisers bid up the price for a spot to a record $2.25 million. The ads will be seen by some 90 million people-31% of the U.S.-on game day. Media will cover the commercial spectacle. Productivity will tank the next day as workers talk about who won (the ads, not the teams).

But overall, Bowl ads have become too predictable and formulaic. It's largely the same old list of sponsors: BBDO will field the usual team (Pepsi, Frito-Lay, FedEx, Visa); H&R Block will do another Willie Nelson spot; Hollywood trailer-cutters will flog wannabe blockbusters; Philip Morris will tell us not to smoke (yeah, right).

Apple Computer changed the game 20 years ago when it produced a defining commercial, "1984," as part of a broad plan to introduce a defining product, Macintosh. Now it's commonplace for Bowl advertisers to leverage PR and promotions, as Pepsi-Cola Co. is doing with its Apple iTunes music giveaway.

The Bowl is still a good venue to launch or relaunch products-when the message is credible. Two years ago General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac did it with its "Break Through" campaign. This year's hot bowl launch? New packaging for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Charmin.

So don't confuse the Super Bowl with great advertising. There will be a few winners, a few losers, but mostly mediocrity-a sad commentary on the state of the mainstay 30-second commercial. Long term, the Bowl could lose its luster if ads don't live up to the hype. Short term, the logic of Bowl advertising needs to be challenged. Unless you have creative and compelling reasons to be on the game, stay home-and hope your competition blows its budget on the Super Bowl.

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