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Super Bowl spot for Net seller

Millions of eyeballs, millions of dollars. Will the first Super Bowl commercial from an Internet company score big?

The Web hits a new milestone today when the first advertisement from an Internet company--Auto-By-Tel--is aired during the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl typically attracts the largest television audience of the year. This year, 25 companies will air 29 minutes worth of ads during the game between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. They will fork out a record $1.2 million per 30-second spot.

"It's a sign of Internet companies realizing they need to build brand equity now, because five years ago they didn't exist," said Jerry Back, media research analyst for San Francisco ad agency Hal Riney & Partners. "The Super Bowl is the number-one place that any advertiser can go to get the most eyeballs at one time."

Yahoo and America Online are taking a similar path, while Infoseek is running radio spots, Back noted.

While Auto-By-Tel specializes in online commerce, its business line--selling or leasing new cars and trucks--is decidedly traditional and popular with Super Bowl audience. The company has processed more than 400,000 auto-purchase requests since it was launched in March 1995. Consumers buy cars from a network of 1,500 dealers that pay the company a membership fee, said spokeswoman Melanie Webber.

"You have the opportunity to save time, money, and hassle," Webber said. Next week, the company will announce a used-car cyberstore, she told CNET.

"We're advertising on the Super Bowl to create national brand awareness for our company," said Auto-by-Tel founder and chief executive Peter Ellis.

Actor Leonard Nimoy will narrate the spot to be aired just before the halftime break before Super Bowl XXXI. The animated spot shows how the process works, focusing on its ease and simplicity, and taking a good-natured poke at traditional car buying.

The online car buying market is getting competitive. Big car makers such as Nissan Motors and Jaguar are getting into the business as well to supplement selling cars from the lots.