The Super Bowl of 2001 is sometimes described as the “Dot-Com Bowl,” but it wasn’t the first to feature advertising by a company that engaged consumers primarily through the internet. That would be Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, by virtue of this spot by auto marketer Auto-By-Tel, the first internet company to advertise in the game, and agency RBI Communications.
The Irvine, Calif.-based company was founded by Pete Ellis and John Bedrosian in 1994, moving from the Prodigy online service to the broader web in March 1995. In this animated spot, it goes for household-name status with a selling proposition that also invokes products already in everybody’s home. "From the beginning of time, people wondered, 'Why does car buying have to be such a pain?'" begins the voiceover, by Leonard Nimoy, as the action scopes from an almost Biblical scene to a mock painkiller ad. (For another example of Super Bowl misdirection, check out Hormel Chili's "Bold Innovation" in 1998.)
Auto-By-Tel and RBI returned to the Super Bowl in 1998 (“Come As You Are”). Though it would take until 2003 for the company to turn a profit, Auto-By-Tel would also outlast many of startups that bet big on Super Bowl ads in 2001. It changed its name to AutoWeb in 2017.
AGENCY: RBI Communications
QUARTER AIRED: Q2