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Past Super Bowl Advertisers Become No-Shows in ’94

The Super Bowl is a marketer’s haven--or so goes the super hype. But Subaru is still smarting--if not shaken--from its super flop during last year’s big game.

The Japanese car maker--which aired five new TV spots during the 1993 Super Bowl--woke up the following day to discover that its commercials were chastised by an independent panel of consumers in USA Today, which rated the ads as the very worst aired the entire Super Bowl.

Consumers won’t hear a peep from Subaru this year as it joins a growing list of advertisers who believe that a no-show on Super Bowl Sunday can be a wise move.

“We’ve since concluded that is a game we’re not well-suited for,” said Richard Marshall, a Subaru spokesman. Besides saving the company $2 million in broadcast time--it might also save it some humiliation.

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Yet the ugly possibility of national ridicule is hardly stopping some of the nation’s biggest marketers from spending $900,000 for every 30 seconds of TV commercial time they buy. NBC will rake in more than $50 million in ad revenues from the big game on Jan. 30 at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Only three ad slots are still available, said an NBC spokesman.

But marketing experts warn that placing a TV spot on the Super Bowl guarantees just one thing: a super bill.

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“Nobody gets their money’s worth in ad value--only in ego satisfaction,” said Walter A. Woods, a Carrollton, Ga.-based marketing consultant.

“The advertisers aren’t even reaching people who are listening to them,” said Katharine D. Paine, president of the Portsmith, N.H.-based Delahaye Group Inc. During commercials most viewers are typically “going to the bathroom, opening beer or replenishing the chip dish.”

And if, by some miracle, all 1.3 billion Super Bowl TV viewers worldwide watch the same 30-second TV spot, that doesn’t mean they’re going to rush out and buy the product, said Tom Collins, a New York-based author and marketing consultant. Collins suggests that the money might be better spent on advertising that actually cultivates purchases by new customers--like direct mail ads or TV infomercials.

Indeed, unless an advertiser’s Super Bowl commercial is a real humdinger, “they might as well be giving their money to the Red Cross,” said Scott Purvis, president of Gallup & Robinson Inc., a Princeton, N.J. marketing research firm.

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That’s one reason why several other companies are joining Subaru in not returning for the 1994 Super Bowl, including Ford, Lee Apparel, Gillette, Miller Brewing Co., Coopers & Lybrand and Servistar.

“It’s not worth all that money if you’re not introducing a new product,” said Gerry Donnelly, advertising manager for Ford’s Lincoln/Mercury division, which advertised a new model on last year’s telecast. “There are other ways to spend that kind of money.”

Coca-Cola, which has snubbed the Super Bowl as an ad forum for several years, is passing again this year. “It doesn’t fit into our marketing strategy,” company spokesman Ben Deutsch said.

But such skepticism doesn’t bother most major advertisers--especially those that plan to introduce new products.

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Chrysler--which hasn’t advertised in a Super Bowl for eight years--is betting big time on this Super Bowl as the best place to introduce the Neon, its new, highly touted compact car. Chrysler will air four 30-second ads--created especially for the Super Bowl.

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But auto makers in particular have received very poor consumer reaction to Super Bowl advertising. Over the past three Super Bowls, not a single automotive advertiser registered more than 10% recall among consumers the day after the game, said Gallup’s Purvis.

That doesn’t bother Chrysler. “We want to make as much noise as we can--as quickly as we can--across America,” said Jim Julow, director of marketing operations at Chrysler Corp. “You can’t find a better place to do it than the Super Bowl.”

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One advertiser, Frito-Lay, will introduce two new products.

“Even if we were panned for our ads--which we won’t be--we’re still going to accomplish what we want in terms of awareness of our new products,” said Brock Leach, vice president of brand marketing at Frito-Lay, which will air ads for new Wavy Lay’s potato chips and for recently introduced Doritos brand Tortilla Thins.

Frito-Lay will sponsor the Super Bowl’s country music-themed halftime show. The Doritos ad features Chevy Chase--on network TV for the first time since his short-lived Fox Television talk show was dumped. And the Lay’s ad will be a new twist on the comical “Lay’s Challenge.”

Three major sneaker makers have also bought broadcast time for this year’s Super Bowl.

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Converse will introduce its $110 “Backjam” basketball shoe in a new TV spot--a “Wizard of Oz” take-off--featuring basketball star Larry Johnson as the ever-silly “Grandmama”

“No single event can get you this kind of exposure,” said Joanna Jacobson, senior vice president of marketing at Converse. “The picking and panning of Super Bowl commercials has become a sport in itself.”

Longtime Super Bowl advertiser Nike has two ads in the hopper--both about the “unsung heroes of basketball,” said Keith Peters, a Nike spokesman. The ads--filmed on basketball courts across the country--will also feature Michael Jordan and other Nike sports heroes.

Reebok, meanwhile, will air a one-minute ad featuring basketball sensation Shaquille O’Neal singing a song from his new rap album. “Remember, this is the Super Bowl of advertising,” said Reebok spokesman David Ropes. “You’ve got to show up if you want to be a player.”

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Briefly . . .

Three veteran Southern California advertising executives have joined forces to form Ground Zero in Venice and have already landed their first client, the Daily Grill restaurant chain. . . . Creative Images, a full-service ad agency, has opened in Burbank. . . . The Long Beach car audio systems firm Kenwood U.S.A. has selected San Francisco-based Citron Haligman Bedecarre to handle its $5-million ad account formerly handled by Kresser/Craig of Santa Monica. . . . It will be slim pickings for new jobs in the public relations field in 1994, with PR firms expected to hire fewer than two entry-level employees per office, according to a survey by the BohleCompany, a Los Angeles-based PR firm. . . . Marketers are showing strong interest in the Southern California Gay and Lesbian Exposition 1994, to be held Jan. 28-30 at Santa Monica Airport.

Not This Year A number of advertisers that bought into last year’s Super Bowl have begged off the event this year. Here are what advertisers said are the reasons they aren’t returning:

* Lee Apparel: Committed broadcast money instead to upcoming Winter Olympics.

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* Ford: No new product to introduce.

* Gillette: No new product to introduce.

* Subaru: Dissatisfied with results from last year’s campaign.

* Miller Brewing: Shut out when Anheuser-Busch became exclusive beer sponsor.

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* Servistar: Reallocating ad budget.

Super Hype

Advertisers are paying $900,000 for each 30-second segment of commercial time on NBC’s telecast of the Super Bowl. Some of the major Super Bowl advertisers and the contents of their spots:

* Anheuser-Busch: Bud Bowl ads feature former coaches Mike Ditka and “Bum” Phillips.

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* Chrysler: Four ads to introduce the Neon compact car.

* Nike: Ads promoting “unsung heroes” of basketball--and Michael Jordan.

* Reebok: Shaquille O’Neal as basketball star-turned-rap singer.

* Converse: A new line of shoes to be introduced by “Grandmama” hoopster Larry Johnson.

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* McDonald’s: Two NFL field goal kickers square off in an exaggerated competition.

* Frito-Lay: An ad introducing Wavy Lay’s potato chips and Chevy Chase for Doritos.

* Pepsi: Several flashy, new ads to promote Pepsi and Diet Pepsi brands.

* Master Lock: One ad promoting durability of lock.

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* 7-Up: The animated 7-Up “spot” returns for another adventure.

Federal Express, Goodyear and Alamo Car Rental will also be advertising, but information about their ads was not available.


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