The Super Bowl scorecard

Updated: Feb 5 2002, 05:30am hrs
Truly, I had every intention of dedicating this column to the manner in which Enron employees were coping with its sudden debacle when I was tackled by the overwhelming excitement of the Super Bowl. Held on February 3 at New Orleans, this years event was distinguished not by the last minute win of a local underdog but also for its 30-second prescience on the state of the New Economy. For, the Big Easy at the Bayou is not just the biggest event for the best advertising debuts of the year but also a handy pulse on the global advertising trends for the year.

Two years ago, 17 dotcoms battled for eyeballs glued to the game, paying an average $2.2 million for a 30-second TV commercial. Then, the Net Economy was flush with funds and upstarts sorry, I mean start-ups were desperate for quick brand recognition and high VC recall. Thats all they got. Many raised obscene amounts in funding, spent it even faster and now most of them no longer exist. By last year the party was definitely over, with only three dotcoms making it to the Super Bowl one of which, E*trade.com, even poked fun at a ghost town of dotcoms. With smart anticipation, Hotjobs.com and Monster.com focussed on ads about getting jobs. And so it was that 2001 turned out to be the year of the great layoff, with companies across industries pruning manpower in a bid to cut costs.

So what secret signs did Super Bowl XXXVI flash Perhaps the most important message: Dotcom is still a dirty word. So dirty in fact that Monster dropped the .com from its Never Settle campaign for the Super Bowl and now proposes to build its brand like any other high-consumer recall brand like Coke or Canon. The only three dotcoms who managed to make it to Super Bowl Sunday this time were Monster, HotJobs.com, and E*trade.com.

More hearteningly though, the Net Economy showed signs of life once again, if the Super Bowl is any barometer. Guess who is adding muscle to the ether The Old Economy companies who seem to be finally getting their integrated media acts together. Having spent the last 18 to 24 months figuring out how to cope with the threats and opportunities of the New Economy, traditional companies are finally beginning to feel comfortable with Net marketing initiatives.

In January 2002, Frito-Lay, the maker of Doritos, chose to not squander its advertising budget on Super Bowl extravaganzas. Instead, it tripled its investment in Internet marketing and now plans a tightly focussed online outreach initiative for teenagers. At least two others linked their Super Bowl spends with brand-building on the Net. Pepsi ran a Web-based contest on Britney Spears, where surfers had the option to vote on six different Britney ads, each one symbolising the music, fashion, and Pepsi jingle of a particular decade from the 40s to the present. The ad voted as most popular on the Net was to debut during the Super Bowl. Levis too invited surfers to vote on three different ads online and the most popular was televised during the game.

Both campaigns augur well for the Net. Yahoo! facilitated the Pepsi and Levis campaigns which then helped bankroll spend on its own advertising on Super Bowl XXXVI. But portals like AOL and MSN also managed to get a share of the pie and have in recent times bagged a host of Old Economy brands wanting to promote brand awareness on the Net, rather than splurge on the Super Bowl alone. AOL has signed deals with Wendys International, Sprint, Unilever, American Express and Burger King, while MSN has bagged significant automotive advertisers like Volvo and Toyota.

For Net advertising, that is manna from heaven: Old Economy companies have longer, sustained strategies, better budgets, and a need for integration across media. Also, they can be counted on to spend more over time as the benefits of Net advertising begin to accrue. In that sense, expect 2002 to offer more cheer if you are a Net marketer. It will be easier making a pitch to traditional brands. Keep reminding yourself: Frito-Lay is allotting 8.5 per cent of its ad budget in 2002 to marketing Doritos online, up from about 3 per cent last year.

Some insight comes from those who chose to stay away from the Super Bowl too. Strapped by sluggish sales, many smart companies will eschew the quick thrill of a big-bang ad spend this year, and instead stretch their advertising buck through small, innovative, and effective strategies on the ground. With the market for initial public offerings looking dim for some time, this is still not the year to make a big splash turn your back on temptations like the Winter Olympics and World Cup Football. But do start spreading your money where it counts: build a bond between your target audience and your brand, polish your value-for-money equation, award loyal customers. After all, when the consumer is ready to spend, you do want him/her to think of you first, dont you