Wharton Report: Super Bowl Returns To Normal

In 2001 it was the madness of sock puppets. Last year it was a salute to American heroes. This year’s Super Bowl ads represent a return to normalcy, according to the sports marketing department at the Wharton School of Business.

“This is advertising’s greatest moment. It’s when the light is shining brightest on advertising creativity,” says Rob DiGisi, a Wharton sports and entertainment marketing lecturer and president of Ironhorse Marketing Inc. in Wilmington, Del.

The January 2003 ads use celebrities and humor to pitch the “necessities” of American life, such as cell phones, Trident gum and beer. Singer Willie Nelson, who settled a back-tax bill with the IRS in 1993, will be pitching for tax-preparer H&R Block. Singer Ozzy Osbourne will be touting Pepsi. Basketball great Michael Jordan and actor Jackie Chan will endorse a new line of tagless men’s t-shirts for Hanes. “This year [will] be more playful, somewhat more lighthearted. It would almost have to be,” says marketing professor David Schmittlein.



Both men pint out that the game can be well worth to $2 million-plus price tag ABC is charging. The Super Bowl, however, is not a venue to pump up short-term sales, Schmittlein adds, noting that the event is usually used by companies as part of a broader advertising strategy. Advertisers often believe they need to have a Super Bowl presence to establish themselves as an industry leader, Schmittlein says. “If you are perceived as the industry leader and you are not in the Super Bowl, people might ask, ‘Why not?’” Some companies will pay extra to negotiate an exclusive contract making them the only one in their industry to advertise during the Super Bowl.

According to Wharton marketing professor Len Lodish, certain companies advertise during the game to draw the attention of wholesalers and trade customers. “When combined with other events, it may be useful for getting your distribution channels behind your product,” he suggests. For example, Schmittlein and DiGisi point to Master Lock, which for several years devoted its entire advertising budget to the Super Bowl. Master Lock was not out to reach consumers: It was out to reach hardware-store owners to get better shelf space.

According to Wharton marketing professor Lisa Bolton, advertisers use the Super Bowl to build brand equity, which has two key components: awareness and association. “With the Super Bowl there’s a lot of competition for [viewers’ attention], so the ads have to do a good job of cutting through the clutter,” says Bolton. Sometimes ads are too successful in drawing attention to themselves. “They build awareness for the ad and people forget the brand. That can be a danger if an ad is too clever in its execution.”

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