More Bang For The Super Bowl Ad Bucks

At $1.3 million, a 30-second spot needs to score extra points

Super Bowl advertising has been a big-time winner for Intel Corp. The chipmaker bought time last year, using the game to debut its now-famous bunny-suit people. These dancing pitchmen, clad in colorful "clean room" suits, have since played a starring role in transforming Intel's once-aloof techno image into something more hip and fun.

Still, Ann Lewnes, Intel's director for worldwide advertising, swallowed hard when she heard the price tag for this year's Super Bowl spots: $1.3 million per 30-second slot. "It freaked me out," she says. Nevertheless, Intel decided not only to return but to boost its presence to two ads. "Everybody is watching this game," she says. "As an advertiser, you have to grin and bear it."

"BEHIND THE CURVE." Intel has a stadium full of company. While the sky-high rates have caused some previous advertisers, such as Nissan Motor Co. and Porsche, to stay on the bench, most figure they've got no choice. Exorbitantly priced or not, with 120 million viewers, the Super Bowl remains the only real mass-market buy in town. And that has left companies scrambling to get more bang for their Super Bowl marketing buck.

Indeed, many companies are coming to the game with a slew of extras tacked onto their commercials in hopes of grabbing more sustained consumer attention. From promotions and contests to international marketing ploys, advertisers are looking for every possible way to extend viewers' eyeball time beyond that 30 seconds. "If all you're doing is a commercial on game day, you're behind the curve," says Scott Becher, president of Sports & Sponsorships, a Coral Gables (Fla.) sports-marketing firm.

That's a big shift from the traditional focus of Super Bowl ads. For years, most advertisers have viewed the game as a one-time event, and simply tried to outshine others by offering up the most creative spot. Although the game-day ads come and go in a flash--some are never used again--many companies spend as much creating their ads as they do to buy the airtime.

This year, companies are far less willing to put all their eggs into one high-profile basket. Consider the way Intel plans to use its two ads. The first, narrated by actor Steve Martin, depicts a theft from Intel's labs. As suspects are suggested, viewers are instructed to visit Intel's Web site to vote on whodunnit. Intel has filmed three endings, and the voting will determine which one will air late in the game. Intel's goal: to use its two minutes of TV time to build Web traffic.

For some, the promotional gains started long before kickoff. By the time ads for Mail Boxes Etc. air in the third quarter, the San Diego-based chain of box-and-ship shops will have tallied most of its Super Bowl publicity. It stretched its spending by inviting small businesses to compete for the chance to appear in its ad. The contest, begun in the fall, generated thousands of entries--and months of free publicity. "It helped us go beyond 30 seconds," says Nancy Mammorella, vice-president for marketing.

IRRESISTIBLE. Similar efforts are under way throughout the Super Bowl advertiser roster. Instead of the stand-alone ad it ran last year, M&M/Mars is kicking off a millennium-themed campaign and contest that will extend into spring. Coca-Cola Co., in addition to buying ad time, is sponsoring the National Football League's effort to educate international viewers on the complexities of football with "virtual signs." Only viewers abroad will see the computer-generated signs, which will explain what a touchdown or a field goal is, alongside a Coke logo. And long-distance giant Sprint Corp. started its ad campaign--starring Tom Arnold and Rob Schneider as obsessed football fans--during postseason NFL games.

Still, the extra mileage is unlikely to quell critics who say the price of Super Bowl ads exceed their usefulness. "I tell my clients there are more effective ways to spend $1.3 million," says Jay Schulberg, CEO of ad agency Bozell Worldwide Inc. But for many, the chance to grab all those eyeballs is too powerful to pass up. This year, marketers hope to make the moment last.

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