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High Risks Mean High Rewards: Will this Year’s Super Bowl Ads Make the Cut?

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0128homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, Jan. 28, 2008-(MCT)-The evolution of the Big Game from, well, a game into a paean to Madison Avenue extravaganza, can be traced through its commercials. The average cost of buying air time for a Super Bowl commercial has gone up more than 60-fold since the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 41 years ago in Super Bowl I, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

This year, 30 seconds of air time will run an average of $2.7 million and up to $3 million.

Blink, and you’ll miss the wallet shrinking: that’s $90,000 or more per second. Costs for a 30-second commercial may hit $140,000 per second if production dollars are included, said Mark Vogel, senior partner at Avant Marketing Group in Olivette, Missouri.

“It is high-risk,” said Vogel. “But it can also be high-reward.”

The commercials have become a program unto themselves. More than 40 million consumers planned to tune in to last year’s Super Bowl because of the commercials, according to a survey conducted for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.

Among the coveted age 25-to-34 demographic, about 26% of respondents said the commercials were the most important part of the broadcast, up from 19% a year before.

“The bottom line is, the Super Bowl is a bargain,” said John Antil, an associate professor of business administration at the University of Delaware who has studied the game’s advertising for more than a decade. “On an exposure basis, it’s some of the least expensive advertising available.”

The broadcast offers a couple of increasingly rare commodities: a massive audience that cuts across all demographics, including young adult men and also plenty of women. The commercials are largely TiVo-proof.

“Generally, the audience is the biggest you can ever get in any sporting event,” said Ambar Rao, professor of marketing at Washington University. “That’s the audience people crave. In that sense, it’s extremely desirable.”

As the Internet and cable TV chip away at mass-market media like broadcast TV, ads in the game become more valuable.

“The rarer it gets, the more important it becomes,” said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. “That’s why the Super Bowl is such a huge stinking deal.”

Like Christmas decorations going up right after Thanksgiving, hype surrounding Super Bowl commercials — partly stoked by stories like this one — simmers for weeks before the game.

The transformation of commercials into a cultural event garners scorn in some circles.

“It is one of the craftiest tricks that Madison Avenue has ever pulled off,” said Thompson. Marketers try “to make soft drinks and burgers seem like the ticket to Heaven itself. … This is one of the most successfully created secular holidays since Abraham Lincoln created Thanksgiving.”

Mark Stevens, chief executive of Rye Brook, N.Y., marketing firm MSCO, for several years has criticized the excesses of what he calls the “Stupid Bowl.”

Stevens gives Anheuser-Busch approval for making the Super Bowl just one leg of its marketing strategy. But too many ad agencies produce commercials that produce buzz among their peers but don’t help clients sell products, he said. “The whole thing is wrong.”

Copyright © 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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