No longer 'Dot-Com Bowl,' but game still super for Net

The legions of ad-buying start-ups may be long gone, but mainstream companies will try to leverage the Internet's reach during their Super Bowl commercials, at $2.3 million a 30-second pop.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
4 min read
This year, Super Bowl fans will be reminded that digital song swapping, like grabbing a player's face mask, can mean a big penalty.

Six teenagers busted for illegal file-trading by the Recording Industry Association of America will be the stars of a 30-second commercial, called "I Fought the Law," aired Sunday during Super Bowl 38 on CBS. The advertisement kicks off Pepsi and Apple Computer's giveaway of 100 million downloads on the iTunes' legal digital-music service. People can find a code for a free file by buying a winning bottle of Pepsi.

"We're still going to download music free off the Internet," says one of the teenage girls in the commercial, referring to the giveaway. "And there's not a thing anyone can do about it."

The commercial is just one example of big-name brands playing up the Internet during TV's biggest annual advertising event, which this year is commanding a record $2.3 million for a 30-second spot. In contrast to the Net's heyday, when the National Football League's championship game was nicknamed the Dot-Com Bowl because of the huge number of ads from now-defunct Web companies, this year's advertisers are established companies that are trying to tap the Web's mass appeal.

"The big difference this year is that there's a lot more integration between offline and online," said Charlene Li, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "There's a recognition that the Internet can extend that investment you make in the Super Bowl."

For example, a past bowl-game commercial from shoemaker Reebok that featured "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker," turned into an Internet phenomenon, making a quasi-celebrity of the actor who plays Tate. Though many technology companies won't be participating in this year's game, many mainstream advertisers will gun for similar creative royalties. Also, many marketers now reuse their ads on Web sites that can play video, such as MSN Video or ESPN Motion.

The Super Bowl is an advertisers' chance to get in front of 135 million people for 30 seconds. That opportunity is rare in an increasingly fragmented ad market. And Super Bowl ads can be more memorable, or command up to 5 to 6 more times the attention than other media, because people often tune into the big game for the commercials.

For this reason, America Online invested heavily in the game this year for the first time. AOL is going "whole hog," according to a representative, by sponsoring the half-time show and airing three 30-second spots, for an estimated $10 million. The struggling Internet service provider, the online unit of Time Warner, is attempting to brush off old impressions of the company's service by touting a faster Net service.

"Most people who aren't our members know an old image," said Len Short, executive vice president of AOL's brand marketing. "But you have to change those minds."

To do this, AOL is promoting its "top speed" technology, and it's hosting a Super Bowl advertising poll so that people can watch and vote on video replays, and get a trial of its new improved technology. Last year, it hosted its first such poll during the Super Bowl and tallied 5 million video streams and votes.

One of AOL's ads will feature the American Chopper guys, characters from a reality show on the Discovery Channel. The ad will tout AOL's accelerator technology for narrowband and broadband Net connections, which, according to the company, make logging on to the Web much faster.

Monster.com, a five-time Super Bowl advertiser, is also back this year. The job-listings service is typically known for its evocative commercials that get people thinking about a new job. At a time when the U.S. job market is still on shaky ground, the company will try to push people to brush off the resume and log on to its site.

Jeff Taylor, CEO of Monster, said Web site traffic spikes during the airing of its commercials and it has record resume days following the Super Bowl. "It is so good for us. How else can you reach 135 million people in 30 seconds?"

One thing researchers caution advertisers about is being able to handle heavy traffic to their Web sites.

Office workers have already rushed the Superbowl.com Web site anticipating the big game. Traffic to the site shot up more than 100 percent during the second week of January, drawing 820,000 visitors, according to market researcher Nielsen/NetRatings.

"Considering the cost of a Super Bowl spot, the last thing an advertiser wants is to lose that momentum through a poorly performing Web site," said Roopak Patel, senior Internet analyst for Keynote.

Other advertisers in this year's game include Procter & Gamble, tobacco giant Philip Morris and pharmaceutical companies plugging Viagra-like drugs. Several Hollywood studios will also be promoting new films.