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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dot-Coms Elbow Out Superbowl's Regulars




NEW YORK -- If Beethoven were commissioned to rewrite his Fifth Symphony for Super Bowl XXXIV, he would undoubtedly begin this way: "Dot, dot, dot, com. Dot, dot, dot, com.''


The mad scramble by Internet companies to increase recognition of their brand names by advertising in traditional media outlets will accelerate on Super Sunday, typically the biggest day of the year for Madison Avenue. Dot-coms are paying record prices - an estimated average of more than $2 million for each 30-second commercial during the game, which is at least 25 percent higher than the 1999 rate - to elbow their way into the ranks of mainstay Super Bowl advertisers like automobiles, beers, credit cards and soft drinks.


For the first time, a dot-com, the E*Trade Group, will even sponsor the halftime show, until now the province of purveyors of prosaic products like lunch meat.


"The dot-coms need to generate awareness and attention, to introduce themselves to the public, to get noticed by Wall Street,'' said Joe Mandese, editor of The Myers Report, a media industry newsletter. "What better way to do that than the ultimate advertising event?''


To be sure, the big gamble by the dot-coms that the exposure gained during the game on Jan. 30 will be worth the expense could be proved wrong. If the performance of their pitches is deemed sufficiently weak, what was intended as a shrewd business move could backfire badly. Not only might those dot-coms not be back for Super Bowl XXXV, they might not be in business by then either.


"There's going to be a major-league shakeout,'' said Gene DeWitt, president and chief executive at DeWitt Media in New York, which buys commercial time and ad space for advertisers.


"They all seem to have decided it's live or die, spending gobs of money,'' he added. "There's a kind of desperation to it.''


Of the estimated 30 companies buying commercial time during the game a dozen or so will be dot-coms. That is four times as many as last year.


The estimated 125 million U.S. viewers of Super Bowl XXXIV will see commercials for companies like Angeltips.com, Computer.com, Kforce.com, Ourbeginning.com, Pets.com and Screaming Media, all seeking to draw traffic to their web sites or sell various goods and services online.


"The Super Bowl is the one time of the year when the viewers look forward to the commercials,'' said Jon Mandel, co-managing director at Mediacom in New York, the media services arm of Grey Advertising.


"It's a one-of-a-kind event,'' he added, "reaching everybody: men, women, children, pets. If you're trying to stand out, it's the place to be.'' Grey Advertising is creating a Super Bowl commercial for Kforce.com, a job search web site owned by Romac International that is formally known as the Knowledge Force Network.


"It's a very intense, hyperconcentrated atmosphere for these companies, some of which you've heard of and some of which are coming in cold,'' said Ted Sann, co-chief executive and chief creative officer at BBDO New York, part of the BBDO Worldwide unit of the Omnicom Group, which will create Super Bowl work for the Charles Schwab online brokerage division as well as advertisers without dots like Federal Express, PepsiCo and Visa.


Because of the demand from dot-coms, as well as the overall strength of the advertising market, commercial time during the game is almost sold out, even with a whole nine weeks remaining before kickoff. Reflecting that bull market, ABC is selling some of the last commercial slots left for prices estimated at $3 million each.


"The dot-coms recognize they need that quick and effective reach to drive people to their sites,'' said Marv Goldsmith, president for sales and marketing at the ABC Television Network in New York, part of the ABC unit of the Walt Disney Co. "And several are coming in on a competitive basis, reacting to each other.''


The creative content of most dot-com commercials tends to be frenetic, cheeky, sometimes deliberately provocative, to help the spots stand out. That affects not only the other dot-coms but also other advertisers.


"When you know the commercials will be interesting, different, contemporary, exciting, it keeps you on your toes,'' said Tony Ponturo, vice president for media and sports marketing at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, which for the 12th consecutive year will be the exclusive beer advertiser during the Super Bowl. "It makes you lean forward and make sure you're sharp as well.


"Our estimates are that there's $500 million to $700 million of dot-com money in the market place,'' he added. "That's huge, more than the beer category.''