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Super Bowl TV ad sales still strong

But economy changes tone of some spots

The Super Bowl is on track to remain one big, glitzy bash even in these tough economic times.

That’s not to say some advertisers aren’t nervous about buying expensive ad slots as business falters. Some stalwarts such as General Motors Corp., FedEx Corp. and Garmin Ltd. won’t be advertising on the Feb. 1 broadcast on NBC. Playboy Enterprises Inc. isn’t throwing its customary party at the game, for the first time in nine years.

But aggressive marketing by NBC to secure ad deals before last September’s financial meltdown helped to ensure Super Bowl XLIII, between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers, won’t be a marketing bust.

NBC said 90 percent of the Super Bowl ads had sold as of mid-January. Most ads have sold for about $3 million per 30-second spot – an all-time high price for the Super Bowl, which is the most watched event in the nation, with about 100 million U.S. viewers.

The sales pace matched those of previous years and the network said it was in discussions on the remaining unsold spots. Most are in the fourth quarter, and tend to go for slightly less than other positions.

“There is unrivaled attention surrounding the game,” said Brian Walker, senior director of communications at NBC Sports in New York. “As research confirms, it remains the most powerful vehicle for an advertiser to promote its brand and products.”

While some high-profile advertisers have pulled the plug, many are staying put and some, such as Mars Inc.’s Pedigree pet food, will appear in the Super Bowl for the first time.

But the tone of some ads this year will reflect tough times. As Tim Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management puts it: A good ad connects with its audience. And that audience is stressed about finances.

Take the case of Hyundai Motors America. Automotive ads during the Super Bowl tend to focus on vehicle launches, and Hyundai was planning to run two 30-second spots for its Genesis Coupe.But now, the South Korean carmaker might exchange one of the ads for a spot featuring a new incentive program that forgives auto loans for car buyers who lose their income within a year of the purchase.

Longtime Super Bowl patron Anheuser-Busch is taking a different approach. The Budweiser brewer said it wants its ads to uplift and entertain viewers instead of reminding them about the economy. Anheuser-Busch will be airing 4 1/2 minutes worth of ads – 30 seconds more than what it purchased last year – broken up into two 60-second ads and five half-minute spots.

The Super Bowl remains a unique marketing vehicle because it’s known as much for its commercials as the game itself. A TNS Media survey released this month confirmed that people watch commercials throughout the game, instead of switching channels.

“The Super Bowl remains as truly the only property that has the ability to reach the largest mass audience across all demographics at one time,” said TNS Media CEO Dean DeBiase.

That’s why Audi of America is staying put and buying a 60-second spot. Last year, traffic to Audi’s Web site tripled in the month leading up to the Super Bowl – as details about the ads were teased – and the month immediately after.

In the face of dismal automotive news, Audi said it’s important to communicate strength and optimism. Or, as Chief Marketing Officer Scott Keogh put it, “This is a brand that’s spending money.”

The Go Daddy Group Inc., which registers Internet domain names, is elated that NBC has approved two somewhat racy ads for the Super Bowl, one of which will air after a consumer vote. Censors disapproved its ad for last year’s Super Bowl, so GoDaddy aired a spot telling viewers to go to its Web site to watch the commercial. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GoDaddy got 1.5 million Web hits before the game ended.

“Our ads are fun, edgy and slightly inappropriate,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Driscoll.


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