CBS sells out Super Bowl commercials


CBS didn’t need a Hail Mary pass to unload its commercial spots in Sunday’s Super Bowl after all.

On Monday, CBS executives said they had finished selling commercial time for the NFL championship game between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. Despite the weak economy, CBS is charging $2.5 million to more than $3 million for each 30-second spot, about the same amount that NBC collected a year ago.

Several first-time advertisers are in the lineup, including Kia Motors America, Qualcomm’s mobile television service Flo TV, KGB texting information service and the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, which has a controversial antiabortion commercial with college football star Tim Tebow.

“This year we are going to call it the Controversy Bowl,” said Mike Sheldon, chief executive of the Los Angeles advertising firm Deutsch LA, which created Super Bowl spots this year for Volkswagen and Dr Pepper Cherry. “It used to be a championship football game, then it became an advertising showcase, and now the Super Bowl has turned into a microphone for special interests. It has become so much bigger than a football game.”

CBS’ decision to accept the Tebow advertisement dominated the pregame debate during the last week and a half. Liberal groups mobilized to decry the network’s decision to accept issue ads, a reversal of its previous policy. Last week, CBS rejected a commercial submitted by a gay-dating website,

More than $200 million will be spent on Super Bowl ads, including the pre- and postgame shows, according to industry analysts. Advertising in the Super Bowl increasingly has become a high-stakes sport, in large part because about 100 million people are expected to tune in Sunday, which would set a record.

Despite the weak economy, CBS was able to hold the line on its prices and didn’t have to drop rates to attract last-minute buyers, the network said.

“We have had a healthy sales effort, and the game is full of blue-chip advertisers,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of CBS network sales. “We still have a few spots left in the pregame hours, but the Super Bowl itself is sold out.”

No major banks bought ads this year. The only financial services firm will be E-Trade Financial Corp., which plans to introduce a new baby investor in its commercial. Only one domestic automaker, Chrysler, is in the rotation. A fleet of foreign automakers -- including Hyundai Motor America, American Honda Motor Co., Audi, Kia Motors Corp. and Volkswagen -- bought time this year. Ford bought commercials in the pregame shows.

Several companies that didn’t advertise last year -- including Dockers pants, Skechers shoes, Unilever and Home Away, a vacation rental service -- will take the field, Ross said.

The U.S. Census Bureau has an advertisement, and once again, Anheuser-Busch InBev will be the only beer company in the game, having bought five minutes of time. Anheuser-Busch has been the Super Bowl’s exclusive alcohol advertiser for 22 years.

Walt Disney Co., Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures are expected to promote their movies.

Teleflora early on bought a Valentine’s Day-themed spot to run during the game’s second quarter. Don Rickles provides the voice of a “box of nasty flowers,” marking the second consecutive year the Los Angeles-based flower company has advertised in the Super Bowl.

“CBS tried to buy the time back from us, at a premium, but we wouldn’t give it up,” said Lynda Resnick, Teleflora’s chairman and owner. “Last year, we did amazingly well. Our sales for February were up 5%, which doesn’t sound that amazing, but remember that last year, February came in the middle of the economic freeze.”

Surveys have found that as many or more people watch the Super Bowl to see the ads as for the action on the field. Nielsen Co. said 51% of the people it surveyed enjoyed the commercials more than the game and, in some cases, people remembered ads even when they couldn’t recall which team won.

Advertisers increasingly are building weeks-long advertising campaigns around their Super Bowl spots with online games, cellphone applications, opinion polls and other marketing ploys.

“This is the only media event where some 90 million people watch, and they want to see your advertising. In every other medium, people are clicking on their remotes or turning the pages to try to get away from your advertising,” Deutsch’s Sheldon said.

Some people watch live shows, in part, to see if anything outrageous happens. Six years ago, Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show, and six months ago singer Kanye West went on a tirade during the MTV Video Music Awards. Now Super Bowl ads are generating controversy, which should draw more viewers.

“They don’t want to miss the train wreck,” Sheldon said.