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. Mancrunch.com'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."