Advertisers Gear Up for Super Bowl

NEW YORK -- The Super Bowl is the biggest game in NFL football, but some of the toughest competition this Sunday will be off the field, as advertisers trot out their most attention-grabbing and expensive commercials to one of the largest television viewing audiences in the U.S.

The blogging boom has created crowds of armchair critics; the price for a 30-second spot is up again, to $2.7 million; and a writers' strike in the United States has wiped out many other opportunities to reach mass audiences by putting scripted dramas on hold.

Even against odds like these, many major marketing powers and even a few first-timers could not resist the opportunity of reaching more than 90 million people in a single shot -- something that is increasingly hard to do in any medium.

Advertisers still love the Internet for its ability to deliver measured results from click-throughs and carve audiences into tiny segments. But only the largest of television's "events" -- such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the Oscars and the Grammy Awards -- have the muscle to pull in tens of millions of people in real time.

"There are so few media vehicles out there that reach that size audience that there's still a big value in not only reaching so many people but in such an engaging manner," said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat, a major buyer and planner of advertising.

Add the extra buzz created by the possibility of the New England Patriots making history with an undefeated season, and advertisers for the Feb. 3 game have a lot on the line. The placement is great if they have a winning ad, not so great if the ad tanks. Last year's viewership of 93.2 million was close to the all-time record of 94.1 million set in 1996, and many believe that record could be surpassed this year.

The results from online advertising often confirm the value of hitting big audiences, Donchin said, because advertisers can measure the upswing in traffic to web sites after an ad is televised.

The Super Bowl continues to draw new advertisers, including Planters packaged nut company, part of Kraft Foods, as well as Cars.com, an online auto classified advertising company co-owned by the newspaper publishers Gannett, McClatchy, Tribune, Washington Post and Belo.

No neophyte in the advertising world, Kraft decided a Super Bowl spot was well worth the money last year as it began repositioning Planters beyond the $3 billion packaged nuts business to compete in the $20 billion market of salted snacks, which includes potato chips, pretzels and popcorn.

Those attract fairly different age and gender groups, says Allan Lindsay, senior director of marketing for salty snacks at Kraft. Nuts tend to be bought by adults 45 and older, while salty snacks tend to be bought by people ages 35-55, and men more than women -- just the kind of people who watch the Super Bowl.

"If we really wanted to accelerate our growth, we needed to think bigger," Lindsay said. "We wanted the big platform to get our message out there ... and it's a natural venue to do that."

Lindsay, like many other advertisers, offered hints about his ad but not the full story line. It will feature men being "drawn" to Planters nuts, he said.