At the height of the dot-com hysteria, Web companies were more than happy to pay the millions of dollars required to parade visions of new technologies and unlimited riches in front of the TV audience for the National Football League championship. But with the economy and the tech sector limping along, only a handful of Web businesses will be represented during the broadcast of Super Bowl XXXVII, set for Sunday on the Walt Disney-owned ABC network.
Still, the playbook for many marketers this year involves encouraging people to interact with commercial messages either by logging onto a Web site or by inputting opinions into a cell phone. And other novel marriages of marketing and technology will be on display.
Advertisers are increasingly recognizing the value that technology holds for gauging popular opinion instantaneously and for building a deeper relationship with customers, ad industry executives say. And what better time to test that notion than during the Super Bowl--television's most watched sporting event, with many people tuning in just to see the ads.
"There's lots of interactivity this year," said Denise Garcia, advertising analyst with research firm Gartner G2. "Advertisers are finally getting (the idea) that the Web and technology can help measure their campaigns in other mediums."
Technology marketers and mainstream advertisers alike are tapping the Web to buoy interest. Mainstays Monster.com and Yahoo-owned HotJobs.com will encourage viewers to get a new job during the game. This is the fifth year HotJobs has advertised during the playoffs. The company will preview its commercial Saturday on Yahoo and will continue to let people access it anytime on its own site.
"It's not just 30 seconds and done, but it's an experience that people can interact with on many levels," said Marc Karasu, vice president of advertising at HotJobs.
A 30-second spot can cost advertisers more than $2 million during this year's big game, and the Web offers a chance to see how people are responding to a big-budget ad.
"It's such a receptive audience, and to give people a sneak peek at the ad could mean more interest, more traffic, more brand awareness and potentially more revenue," Karasu said.
Soft-drink behemoth Pepsi and clothing manufacturer Levi Strauss are thinking along the same lines, with both touting Web tie-ins this year.
Pepsi is airing a commercial featuring the raucous MTV cult favorite the Osbourne family. On Saturday, people can go to Yahoo to watch a video on the making of the Osbournes' commercial, which includes cameos of Donny and Marie Osmond, as well as to participate in a charity auction of goods that will benefit the Los Angeles Youth Network.
Levi Strauss is running a Web-based contest to win a pair of jeans worth $150,000 that culminates with a clue given during the company's Super Bowl ad Sunday.
Voting is also a big marketing tactic this year. Pepsi is holding a contest on its site to let people vote on the best ending for the spot that pushes its Sierra Mist soda. The ad features a zoo monkey trying to jury-rig a way into the polar bear pool. People who vote can also enter to win prizes. The ending with the most votes will be aired during the Super Bowl.
And cell phone service providers will use the Super Bowl to promote wireless e-mail services. AT&T Wireless, the Super Bowl half-time sponsor, will involve text messaging, or "texting," in a trivia contest it plans to air before the game. Clips of previous Super Bowl action will be shown, then freeze-framed before the plays are resolved. Subscribers will be asked to vote, using text messages, on how the plays actually turned out.
"We want people to know they can do something with their phones other than make a phone call," said AT&T Wireless representative Mark Siegel.
Subscribers to Sprint PCS'swireless Web plans can use text messages to take part in a poll judging the best Super Bowl commercials. Verizon Wireless is offering special text messaged game updates and trivia during the Super Bowl.
In another innovation, Palm Springs-based Digital Visual Werks and Hewlett-Packard will debut programmable display billboards on the top of automobiles in the streets outside the stadium. Using HP technology and remote queuing wireless capabilities, the billboards can deliver ads that change in a matter of seconds according to demographics, time and location. For example, if a shuttle bus travels to an area of town that is primarily Spanish speaking, then the English-language ads automatically change to Spanish.
And advertising portal AdForum.com hopes to profit by letting people get a second peek at all the ads aired during the game at its site after the Super Bowl.
Advertisers may be pulling out all the stops this year creatively because it's not cheap to air a Super Bowl ad.
"In a tough advertising market, the 30-second spot prices have gone up 10 percent in 2003 compared to last year, to an average of $2.1 million dollars," AdForum.com spokesman Hervé de Clerck said in a statement. "So we can expect advertisers like Budweiser, Pepsi, H&R Block, Levi's, Chrysler or Visa to make the best of their investment by broadcasting excellent work--the Super Bowl usually reflects the actual trends of the advertising business."
News.com's Ben Charny contributed to this report.