Roster of Super Bowl Ad Players Almost Set

P&G narrows contenders for its first-time slot in Big Game

Although the athletes have another two months to settle who’s going to Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston on Feb. 1, the list of major players in the nation’s ad showcase is nearing completion.

A CBS rep said Friday that 85 percent of the game is sold out, mostly because perennial Bowl buying giants like Anheuser-Busch and Omnicom Group’s OMD bought early. (While Bowl broadcaster CBS declined to disclose the number of in-game units available, sources said 60 or 61 30-second spots were up for grabs.) CBS is getting about $2.3 million per unit, sources said, slightly above last year’s $2.1-2.2 million.

“[CBS] got off to a faster start this year, but the market slowed them down a bit. Whereas last year there was a slower start with a buildup of momentum,” said Ray Warren, managing director at OMD, whose returning clients this year include Gillette, Pepsi, FedEx and Visa, all of which work with BBDO on creative.

“This year’s game is dominated by the larger advertisers—more of the ones you’d expect to see, which was also what drove the upfront,” said Tim Spengler, evp, director of national broadcast for Interpublic Group’s Initiative Media.

Still, some of last year’s advertisers have decided to sit this one out. The list of those not returning in 2004 includes M&M Mars, Charles Schwab, Hanes, Levi’s and Reebok, sources said. American Express, HotJobs and the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which all played last year, are said to be as yet undecided about buying time.

Perhaps the most intriguing newcomer is the world’s largest advertiser. For its Super Bowl debut, Procter & Gamble turned the buy into a contest among roster shops. The packaged-goods marketer is borrowing a page from Anheuser-Busch’s playbook, which has roster shops (including Goodby, Silverstein & Partners; Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos; Modernista!; and DDB Chicago) compete for appearances in the Super Bowl. P&G’s contenders include Saatchi & Saatchi, The Kaplan Thaler Group, Grey and Publicis.

On Friday night, a handful of P&G honchos were to meet at the Cincinnati home of global marketing officer Jim Stengel to watch the finalists’ work, a P&G rep said. Why the house? “We wanted to replicate the consumer experience,” the rep explained.

Expected to attend were CEO A.G. Lafley; Rob Steele, president of the North American marketing development organization; and Kerry Clark, president of global market development and business operations. The rep said judging criteria included questions such as, “Is it a strong match for the target audience?” and, “Is it the best fit for the venue?” The executives will select one Super Bowl winner by mid-December.

In September, P&G agencies nominated 25 brands for the event, but the competition is now down to about a quarter of that. A P&G rep said seven brands were still being considered—Charmin, Crest, Prilosec, Swiffer, Pringles, Mr. Clean Auto Dry and Old Spice—but sources said client executives were focusing on Charmin (which Publicis handles), Crest (Saatchi), Prilosec (also Publicis) and Swiffer (Kaplan Thaler). Spots have been produced for each and are now being tested, according to sources.

Positions in the first half of the game were already sold out by late summer, noted Steve Grubbs, CEO of North America for Omnicom media network PHD and a 15-year veteran of the Super Bowl sales frenzy. “I tried to buy a 60-second at the end of August and beginning of September, and it didn’t look real good,” he said. “And the third quarter looked tough as well.”