Middle-Aged Super Bowl Showing Its Paunch

Who would have thought we'd ever miss the days of the Budweiser talking frogs? The main advertising buzz around this year's Super Bowl has been CBS' inability to sell discounted time and the controversial advertisers who are taking advantage of the cheap rates. In the good old days of, say, five years ago, the Super Bowl meant three things to its 90 million viewers: football, partying and ads. At 44, the Game is beginning to show its middle-age paunch, with the media focusing on its problems, not its successes. Sounds more AARP than MTV!

The scuttlebutt surrounding CBS' inability to sell out Super Bowl advertising space appeared back in May. After all, what kind of company could afford the largesse of spending millions on a 30-second ad during a recession? The woes were compounded when it was revealed that rates were lowered to 2.5 - 2.8 million bucks, well off the $3 million some spots commanded in 2009. Had the "Tiffany network" adopted Walmart's tried-and-true mantra of "Always low prices"? I imagine next year's salespeople will be forever indebted to them for the favor.



Clearly, some companies seemed to think the rates were a bargain because it sent a message that they were now super. First-time advertiser KGB is now a card-carrying member of the Super advertising club, with a spot starring those two professional C-listers Stephen and William Baldwin. What the Baldwins may have been charged to appear in the spot hasn't been revealed.

Even bargain rates couldn't keep long-time advertiser Pepsi in the game. Pepsi publicly chose to spend $20 million on a social media campaign instead. I'd like to have seen the money spent sponsoring a five-minute Diet Pepsi chugging competition between Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry during the half-time show. Some clever CBS salesperson could have come up with a price for that. Loyal advertisers FedEx and General Motors also took a pass. Owners of worthless GM stock would have shotgunned their TVs if they had seen unpaid dividends spent on a Super Bowl ad. This is the one thoughtful marketing move GM's made in recent memory.

The real downer is the fact that the only ads generating any chatter concern anti-abortion issues and the gay right to eat junk food. An evangelical Christian group, Focus on the Family, is airing an ad starring college quarterback Tim Tebow, famous for hawking Doritos. NBC turned down a request by a similar group to advertise in the 2009 Super Bowl because it could afford to.'s money wasn't good enough for CBS: its ad featuring two gay men sharing a bowl of chips didn't make the cut. It's currently playing on YouTube -- so Mancrunch got the publicity for free anyway! Clearly, Sarah Palin is off to a great start as the new CBS director of advertising sales.

As we enter Super Bowl week, the ad community isn't buzzing with anticipation of the new classics. We're not chafing to see the next Ridley Scott 1984 ad, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird ad or even Budweiser frogs ad. The real action may be on YouTube anyway.

After all, why spend millions of dollars for 30 seconds in front of the audience that isn't TiVoing or going to the bathroom, when a clever ad will be seen by millions when it goes viral: Think Mancrunch! Being turned down seems to be the best Super Bowl advertising strategy yet. And as for the classic days of advertising? "There's always Mad Men."

4 comments about "Middle-Aged Super Bowl Showing Its Paunch ".
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  1. Walt Guarino from Insight/SGW, February 1, 2010 at 1:14 p.m.

    There are some funny lines here, but I dunno about this year's crop of advertisers not being able to entertain us in the traditional style of the Super Bowl. New research shows that more people like the ads than the game. They also show that brand recall is exceptionally high for ads seen on the Super Bowl. Sure, they have an afterlife online. That's a great thing. I cannot tell you how many times I saw last year's E-trade spot on YouTube. It's one man's opinion, but I think there may some pleasant surprises in store. Like they say: "Stay tuned!"

  2. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, February 2, 2010 at 3:58 a.m.

    Great article. The Super Bowl has, for the past 10 years at least, been seen by most as the Super Bowl of Advertising, not American football. So Walt's point is valid. The era may be coming to an end or the pricing isn't falling fast enough to keep up with the competition of the Internet as a showcase of the best ads.

  3. Allison Bond from I'm Rich!, February 2, 2010 at 5:53 a.m.

    The cheap shot at Sarah Palin was almost as clever as the Mancrunch ad.

  4. Gerry Myers from Advisory Link, February 2, 2010 at 10:09 a.m.

    Super Bowl advertising generally is viewed as a tradition and it is highly watched. Many take bathroom breaks during the game rather than miss the ads. Unfortunately, the ads haven't always lived up to expectations. Each year I write a critique for various media outlets of Super Bowl ads and how they missed the mark with women. The Super Bowl is an excellent venue where women socialize while watching the game and ads.

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