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Tallulah Bankhead once said, “it doesn’t matter what they say about you, as long as they spell your name right.” I suppose that was true back in the days when what they said about you wasn’t the lead joke in Letterman’s or Leno’s opening monologue. Or before the opinions of media (and non-media) pundits were beamed worldwide via satellite. You know, before web sites.

What got me thinking about this was the Super Bowl. Not the game itself, which generates an enormous audience, but the commercials that appear during the game. Not only does the Super Bowl generate enormous reach, but also it’s an advertising vehicle that offers advertisers and their agencies the chance to show off their skills – or, as often happens, their lack thereof. (There are presumably viewers who tape the event just to be able to zap the game and cheer or boo the commercials.)

At $2+ million for a 30-second spot you wonder why advertisers would pay for the privilege of having their commercials rated, assessed, dissed, dissected and generally re-examined. Which is exactly what happens during the week following the game. Everyone becomes an advertising guru and comments upon the game; I mean, the spots.



Those of us who really are in advertising are not immune. Logging on to my computer this morning, my Home Page invited me to rate my “favorite” commercial. What I liked isn’t important, but based on nearly 50,000 other respondents, the Budweiser “Zebra” commercial received a 22% vote. Terry Tate “Office Linebacker” was rated second, with 18% of the vote. I might have voted for that commercial, but I couldn’t remember exactly what it was advertising, or for whom. The Osmonds – the Osmonds? – appeared for Pepsi Twist and received 12% of the kudos. The stratospherically compensated Michael Jordan showed up in two campaigns, both very low rated: Gatorade received a mere 3% of the vote. His other was Hanes tagless tee shirts, where Jordan smirks and rolls his eyes as Jackie Chan scratches at the tag rubbing his neck. I guess there are lots of folks who, like me, don’t find tags all that annoying; at least not annoying enough to think a company would base a “brand differentiation strategy” on such a minor attribute – and lay out all that money to promote it.

But there I go again, being rational. Besides paying to boost sales, all those Super Bowl advertisers also paid for the joy of having me – and thousands like me – spend the next few days criticizing their commercials, their strategies and their brands. In an economy when every advertising dollar counts, it makes you wonder about the wisdom of this kind of marketing.

That said, I suppose those companies might find solace in the age-old quote from Mae West: “It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.” But isn’t that to presume that the spots are, in fact, being looked over? There’s no guarantee that your Super Bowl spot won’t run during bathroom breaks, or while millions scoot out to the kitchen for another cold one – which may or may not be the beer that’s spending all those millions to be “looked over.”

The spooky reality is that each year, Super Bowl post-buy analyses reveal a disturbing fact: major advertisers’ spots are indeed recalled – including many advertisers who did not actually run spots! Worse yet, advertisers who poured huge treasure into Super Bowl spots are not recalled, not even as “aided recall.”

But, hey, as they say in show biz, “You pays your money, you takes your chances.” It’s just that Super Bowl advertising means paying a huge amount of money – on a very chancy chance. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they spelled your name right if nobody remembers seeing it.

Robert Passikoff is founder of Brand Keys Inc. (New York), a brand and customer loyalty consultancy. He can be reached at 212-532-6028, x12, or

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