"Dot coms" look to score from Super Bowl ads

Super Bowl Sunday may not wind up so super for Internet companies that are spending huge chunks of their marketing budgets on the advertising world's premier showcase.

3 min read
Super Bowl Sunday may not wind up so super for Internet companies that are spending huge chunks of their marketing budgets on the advertising world's premier showcase.

The list of "dot coms" that will be advertising during this year's game has grown to more than a dozen, as companies with large capitalizations and those with meager budgets spend an average of $2.2 million for a 30-second spot.

This year's list of Net companies advertising during the championship football game includes Monster.com, HotJobs.com, Pets.com, OurBeginning.com, Oxygen Media, Kforce.com and Computer.com. Online brokerage firm E*Trade will be sponsoring the half-time show as well as numerous spots during the game.

These companies are spending between $1.9 million and $3 million per spot, depending on what quarter the ad runs. Last year's average cost was $1.6 million.

However, the blizzard of ads for Net companies is likely to make it difficult for any one company to make an impression, analysts agreed.

"The throw-another-log-on-the-fire sites likes Pets.com and Drugstore.com are becoming so crowded that differentiating those guys is extremely difficult," said Patrick Keane, the director of advertising strategies for research firm Jupiter Communications. "I'm not sure that doing another Super Bowl ad is going to help them differentiate."

Several companies such as Angeltips.com that were slated to buy the primetime slots have pulled their ads after re-evaluating the effect a single ad would have on their long-term exposure. Instead, the company has bought a series of primetime slots on ABC--the network broadcasting the Super Bowl this year.

The Super Bowl will be an exclamation point on a year in which Net companies dominated the ad scene, spending hundreds of millions on TV, newspaper, magazine, radio and billboard campaigns.

"The stakes have gotten so much higher because there are so many more Internet companies today that are well funded, and they are all spending aggressively offline for big flashy marketing campaigns," said Andrea Williams, a managing director at investment bank Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown.

But because their vast budgets are inundating the tube, she thinks the effectiveness of the advertisements are also falling.

"I think we are almost at the saturation point or even at the backlash point where people are tired of watching Internet ads," Williams said.

And still, the advertisements keep coming.

OurBeginning.com's chief executive Michael Budowski said that he is spending about $4 million of his $15 million 2000 marketing budget on the Super Bowl. His company, an online personalized stationary store, will have one ad toward the end of the second quarter and a series of four during the pre-game show.

"If we wanted to catapult ourselves to the forefront and shorten the branding curve, the Super Bowl represents the ultimate opportunity," Budowski said. "We researched different media buys, and we realized that the Super Bowl is really the only media buy throughout the year."

Budowski said he expects the traffic at his site to grow about tenfold after the game, and he plans to keep advertising during shows that are "well-hyped" such as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" during the year.

Internet companies that got a bang for their buck last year may just have benefited from being a novelty item, analysts said. The vast Super Bowl viewing audience most likely included those just beginning to discover the Internet. Last year, the game reached into nearly 40 million homes, according Nielsen Media Research.

"People are in a different place with their Internet experience and understanding of the dot com world," said Anne Hollows, senior vice president of global brand strategies at Monster.com. Her company saw its traffic spike about 450 percent after the game last year. "I would be surprised if we see that kind of a surge this year--the novelty has worn off," she said.

Monster.com is back this year, spending about $4.5 million for two spots during the game and three spots during the pre-game show.

Online brokerage Ameritrade, which has been blasting its ads all over the airwaves spending upward of $100 million in marketing, will be missed from this year's extravaganza.

"We are not participating this year largely because of the price," Ameritrade vice president Michael Anderson said. "We didn't think that the response we could get from the advertisements would justify the expense."