Super Bowl’s clout with advertisers could grow

Nut snack company Diamond Foods said it chose the Super Bowl to launch a new ad featuring Robert Goulet, shown here, because the company knows more people will be paying attention during the commercial  breaks.
Nut snack company Diamond Foods said it chose the Super Bowl to launch a new ad featuring Robert Goulet, shown here, because the company knows more people will be paying attention during the commercial  breaks.Diamond Foods

The Super Bowl has long been considered the pre-eminent television advertising event of the year, not just because millions of Americans tune in but because many of those viewers stay put specifically to watch the ads.

Now, thanks to sophisticated television-recording technology such as TiVo, some say the allure the Super Bowl holds for advertisers could grow even stronger. That’s because millions of Americans are now using services like TiVo and its ilk to zip through commercials on other shows, leaving the Super Bowl among the few broadcasts that will be watched straight through by almost everyone who tunes in.

“The Super Bowl is the least affected by the TiVo effect because it’s live,” said Bob Garfield of Advertising Age magazine. “Hardly anyone watches the Super Bowl on Thursday.”

Super Bowl Sunday, which falls this year on Feb. 4, has the added benefit of being a showcase for some of the best ads of the year. The curiosity about what companies will do to entertain — or annoy — viewers offers further protection for advertisers against the scourge of digital video recording, or DVR.

Josh Bernoff, principal analyst with Forrester Research, said Super Bowl ads remain so highly anticipated that people may not even get up to go to the bathroom during the commercial break, let alone hit the fast-forward button.

In fact, some experts say, those who do record the Super Bowl may be doing so specifically so they can watch the ads again later while using the fast-forward button to skip through the  game.

In general, the growing prevalence of DVR technology has been seen as bad news for companies that traditionally rely on television advertising. A survey of 133 advertisers done last year by Forrester Research found that 63 percent of advertisers believe such TV-recording technology will reduce the effectiveness of the 30-second television commercial. Another 6 percent thought such technology would destroy the effectiveness of those TV commercials.

“It’s far from the uniform perspective, but many major advertisers that we work with are starting to question whether they’re getting the value for their money in traditional television,” Bernoff said.

As TV recording technology becomes more popular, Bernoff believes it will play a role in pushing Super Bowl ad prices even higher, especially in comparison with other television advertising.

That premium is already plenty high. The cost of a 30-second spot is expected to top out at a reported $2.6 million this year. Last year, the spots cost a record $2.5 million, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Larry Blasius, executive vice president for MAGNA Global, which negotiates on behalf of advertisers, said he is starting to see advertisers consider the effect of DVR technology when buying ads on other shows. But for now at least, he said advertisers are still using more traditional considerations in deciding whether to invest in a pricey Super Bowl ad.

“The issue is whether it’s the right environment to showcase your platforms,” he said.

The high price tag isn't dissuading traditional Super Bowl advertisers such as PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch, said Robert Passikoff, president of research firm Brand Keys Inc. He said interest in this year's game is "as high as it ever was," although — as is also typical — some companies are staying quiet about their plans ahead of the game.

Andrew Burke, vice president of marketing for Diamond Foods Inc., said the nut snack company chose this year’s Super Bowl to launch a new advertising campaign in part because the company knows people will actually pay attention during the commercial breaks.

In contrast, he said the company has scaled back its purchases of normal television advertising time. That’s partly because of TiVo-like technology, and partly because the company thinks many people are being drawn away to other platforms, including the Internet.

“We have done a lot less of the kind of traditional TV buys and we’re using mediums in different ways to accomplish different things,” Burke said.

FedEx Corp., another Super Bowl advertiser, has been watching the so-called “TiVo effect” since the technology was introduced, but advertising director Steve Pacheco said it hasn’t responded by reducing its television advertising.

Instead, Pacheco said, the company has sought to create ads that are entertaining enough to get people to stop fast-forwarding and pay attention.

“You’ll hear a lot about people using TiVo to skip ads, and that’s on the one hand,” Pacheco said. “But if you put compelling content or entertaining content out there, we think it can work the other way as well.”

Pacheco said the company also has dabbled in offering advertising promotions directly through TiVo and other companies that provide TV-recording services.

FedEx also has begun designing its ads knowing that they might be watched more closely, more than once and on different platforms. He said the ads now need to stand up to being seen live, played back on a DVR, viewed over the Web or even downloaded to a portable device like a video iPod.

“You’ve got to give it a lot more thought than you used to,” he said.