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Super Bowl 2002 Ads Avoid Violence, Patriotism

Highly produced and entertaining Super Bowl commercials have been the norm in recent years, and despite the events of Sept. 11, ad executives say such ads will still prevail

But conspicuous over-selling may not; nor will flag-waving ads with too much patriotic zeal or anything that might offend viewers.

In other words, don't expect too much creative risk-taking.

Afraid of looking extravagant

"[Clients] are afraid of looking extravagant to shareholders in a down time," said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. "Ironically, people that can afford [the Super Bowl] will avoid it because it seems like the wrong thing to do."

Goodby client E-Trade will be back in Super Bowl XXXVI Feb. 3, although the agency wouldn't discuss the creative running during the game. Goodby also has created work for Anheuser-Busch Cos. that the client is evaluating for placement on the broadcast.

Don't expect a lot of heavy-handed patriotism in the Super Bowl, either.

"There is no way this country can function by patriotism alone," said Craig Murray, president of Craig Murray Productions, an entertainment boutique that creates TV spots for a number of movie studios. "They function by what they have to sell. For $2 million a pop [the approximate cost of a 30-second Super Bowl spot], you are not going to see a lot of PSA-like commercials."

Mr. Murray is working on a commercial for Sony Pictures Entertainment that is in contention for a Super Bowl slot.

Safe, entertaining messages

Super Bowl advertisers hope to wring the most out of game spots with safe, entertaining messages. There will be a return of traditional advertisers, with beer, movies and financial services the bedrock categories that will appear in this year's event, aired on News Corp.'s Fox.

The Super Bowl remains a good showcase for advertisers, said Mr. Goodby, particularly those able to make a statement through advertising on the game year after year. "You have to be a Bud, a Pepsi, an E-Trade," he said. Sibling BBDO Worldwide, New York, is doing Pepsi-Cola Co.ís game advertising.

'Country wants to laugh'

Despite previous concerns that this year's ad messages would be somber, Mr. Goodby predicts humor will make its way into the Super Bowl. "The country wants to laugh," he said. "Even Shakespeare had comic characters in his tragedies."

What will be off-limits is creative tainted with violence or mean-spirited humor. This is a concern for movie advertisers, since studios tend to advertise high-action, and sometimes violent, films aimed at male audiences during the Super Bowl. In the days following Sept. 11, many of these films were pulled or moved to new dates.

Terrorist motorcade attack

Now some of these films' TV marketing efforts are breaking. For instance, Warner Bros.' Collateral Damage, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is about a motorcade that's been blown up by terrorists. Though the terrorist angle isn't explained in the TV spots, a number of explosions are seen. The movie had been set for release just after the Sept. 11 attacks. It will now open Feb. 8, and an ad could run on the Super Bowl, according to some film executives.

"The offering of escape with entertainment is vital," said Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Vivendi Universal's Universal Pictures, who heads up movie distribution and marketing.

Universal has a spot on the Super Bowl for the film The Scorpion King starring pro wrestler The Rock, Mr. Shmuger said. "We, as an industry, had a very healthy fourth quarter. There has been a return to normalcy, and it has been in an astonishingly short period of time."

While creative details of many of this year's Super Bowl spots are still in development or being closely guarded, ad agency creatives expect them to be entertaining, because that's what viewers expect.

The country's attention

"You have the country's attention," said Mike Sheehan, president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston. "They come to the game with the expectation that they'll be entertained. Even if it is not humorous, it should be very entertaining."

Like Mr. Goodby, Mr. Sheehan believes the Super Bowl is worth the price for established brands, and his agency is evaluating the broadcast for one client he wouldn't identify.

"It is a place for humor and big and important brands," he said. "It's a very funky place for [smaller, unknown] brands to pop up. It confuses people."

PR value diminished?

Ordinarily, the Super Bowl gives marketers not just media value, but public relations value. Given some cutbacks companies have made last year, the PR value of the Super Bowl may be diminished.

"[A Super Bowl ad] sends the wrong signal in these times," said Ian Beavis, president of Interpublicís Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, San Francisco.

For example, he said, it would be particularly difficult for marketers that have laid off employees in recent months. "It sends a signal they are overspending." Tricon Global Restaurants' Taco Bell, an FCB client, considered but ultimately decided against a spot on the Super Bowl.

The TV networks aren't helping, Mr. Beavis said. "Because the networks have hyped up how much people are paying for [the commercials], they have become their own worst enemy."


Wayne Friedman and Alice Z. Cuneo, AdAge.com. January 18, 2002

Copyright © 2002 Crain Communications, Inc.. All rights reserved.