Gurney's Inn
February 07, 2007

Jerry's Ink

$85,000 A SECOND

What a Super Bowl. I bet on the Colts and I won. But my overall losing streak remains intact. This is the twelfth season in a row where I've lost money betting on football. I got a call from The Wall Street Journal yesterday asking if I would write an Op Ed piece on the Super Bowl. It appeared in yesterday's WSJ. In case you missed it, here it is.

$85,000 A SECOND

For crying out loud: Are the television networks waiting for George W. Bush to make another one of his Wall Street speeches telling them that Super Bowl commercial rates are too high and they must "step up to their responsibilities" and tie Super Bowl rates to performance?

Did CBS sell out this year's Super Bowl? Of course they will tell you they did. Did they scramble to do it? You bet they did. As of 10 days ago, there were reports that as many as four commercial minutes in the Super Bowl were still available. That's — gulp — 240 seconds at $85,000 a second. You do the math.

The most valuable lesson for executives at Fox, which will be the anointed network for the 2008 Super Bowl, may be that charging more than $2.6 million for a 30-second spot is more than the market can bear. Indeed, it may be time to roll back prices; $85,000 a second is steep — even in these hedge-fund happy days.

The Super Bowl may be the only game in town next February, but a lot of advertisers are starting to compare the costs with the Internet — and the Internet is coming on strong. Ad agencies are now being asked to come up with funny, uncensored, one, two or even three minute commercials for their products that cost little to produce and can live on vehicles like YouTube all year long; $85,000 is a fortune on the Internet, and who knows what the return might be? For instance, Doritos, using a gimmick like having amateurs produce commercials with the winners being voted on at YouTube, got a tremendous viewer reaction long before Super Bowl night.

The fact is that the Super Bowl advertising belongs to companies with mega budgets, like Budweiser and Doritos and Federal Express and Coca Cola. It's interesting that this year, nine out of the 10 most popular commercials (by one reckoning) were for beer, chips and candy — products that can be consumed while watching the Super Bowl.

Budweiser and Bud Light had seven of the top 10 most popular commercials this year. Doritos and Snickers were also in the top 10. Omnicom, whose agencies had 10 out of 10 of the most popular commercials, dominated the Super Bowl of advertising.

"Make them laugh" is still the secret of successful Super Bowl advertising. And if you can make them laugh while using an animal — that's a sure touchdown. Budweiser used a stray dog, Clydesdales an ape, and the most popular commercial of the evening featured beer-swiping crabs, worshipping a Bud ice-chest. But humor really depends on the product you're selling. Beer is funny. Chips are funny. Candy is funny. Heart Attacks are never funny.

One advertiser, King Pharmaceutical, unfortunately made a funny commercial about heart attacks. Their spot featured a guy dressed in a heart outfit, walking down the street, attacked by villains who were dressed as Mr. Overweight, Mr. High Cholesterol, Miss Diabetes, etc. They were shown beating up Mr. Heart until he had a heart attack. This might have been a fine commercial at any other time. Putting it on the Super Bowl was a disaster — with 90 million Americans watching, most of who are overweight and munching on chips and drinking beer.

At my Super Bowl party, a guest who was munching on a fatty spare rib, his face red and his blood pressure up in the stratosphere because Rex Grossman was killing the point spread, said, "That's not funny. They shouldn't allow that stuff on the Super Bowl." I didn't have the heart to tell him that King Pharmaceutical had paid $85,000 a second to get his attention.

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