Super Bowl And Women: A Not-So-Odd Couple?

Forget about mass eyeballs and huge numbers of men. One newcomer to Fox’s Super Bowl XXXIX is setting its sights on an unlikely Big Game target: women.

Female-targeted ads are few and far between in the pigskin championship and annual adfest. There have been isolated efforts, including Procter & Gamble’s Charmin brand spot last year. (The critics panned the ad, although a P&G rep said brand recall was up sharply after it aired. Still, the female-targeting packaged-goods client is not returning this year.)

It’s probably safe to say, then, that 58 of the 59 spots that will air during this year’s Big Game were bought by advertisers that are either looking to accumulate sheer awareness; are eager to get their message out to massive numbers of male viewers; or are simply big and broad enough that they need to talk to 90 million Americans at the same time.

When a brand is new to the game, moreover, it faces an uphill battle for viewer acceptance that established Super Bowl advertisers don’t have to fight (see related story, page 8).

Nonetheless, contact-lens marketer CIBA Vision is determined. The company, which targets women (70 percent of contact-lens wearers are female), is rolling out a national ad campaign for a new product, OOptix, and the linchpin is a 30-second spot breaking during the first quarter of the Super Bowl in Jacksonville on Feb. 6.

Many media buyers scoffed at the idea of using the Super Bowl to talk specifically to women. But Karen Gough, president of the Americas for CIBA Vision, is a former National Football League marketing executive, and she believes football is a winning strategy. The Novartis unit’s product “is one of the most significant new-product launches we have had in some time,” she said, and “a leading innovation requires a big-event showcase. And events don’t get any bigger than the Super Bowl.”

The contrarian approach appears to fly in the face of marketing economics. “I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of targeted advertising in the game,” says Tim Spengler, director of national broadcast at Interpublic Group’s Initiative. “The reason for that is the absence of the female-targeted brands in the superbrands category—based on expenditures.”

With fewer overall dollars to spend, both on commercial production and on media, says Spengler, those female-targeted brands generally spread their budgets over a wider array of media. CIBA Vision’s total U.S. adspend for 2004 (through November) was an estimated $35 million, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. “The issue becomes, Do they want to place that many eggs in one basket?” Spengler says. The answer is usually no.

With a product that skews almost 70 percent female, many buyers would opt for the Oscars on ABC, the “Super Bowl” of female audiences and the premiere showcase for advertisers targeting women. But when Gough had her media agency, WPP Group’s MindShare, run the numbers, she came up with a different answer.

The statistic that decided it for Gough was the fact that the Super Bowl has almost half again as many female viewers—32.2 million in 2004—as the Oscars. And when MindShare ran the pricing, she said, the game proved to be the best female reach vehicle. “We ran several scenarios,” says Gough, including spots in the Oscars and the Grammys. “For me, it’s worth the investment.”

Factored in was CIBA’s need to make a big splash early in the year. The company began distributing the new lenses in the fall, and even ran a promotion giving away a trip to the game.

The Super Bowl is the formal kickoff for a yearlong effort out of Grey in New York running mostly on network TV. A “preview” of the campaign actually rolled out last week with spots running on CSI: NY, The West Wing and Lost. Actress Sela Ward does the voiceover for the TV spot. A special “director’s cut” of the commercial, with added special effects, will be used for the Super Bowl.

While television is a big component of the marketing effort, Gough calls it a “fully integrated campaign” that includes online, print, in-office materials for both customers and eye-care stores and even symposiums for eye-care professionals.

Jason Maltby, MindShare co-executive director of broadcast, admitted that generally speaking, the Super Bowl “is not the most efficient vehicle against women.” But the buy makes sense for CIBA, he said, because “within a larger marketing campaign, if you can fit it in, it’s a shot to reach one out of every three women. That’s an unparalleled opportunity.”

Still, it’s not an opportunity many other buyers appreciate, at least for now.

“You won’t see Revlon in the Super Bowl,” said Ray Warren, managing director at Omnicom Group’s OMD, which places more Super Bowl spots than any other single media agency (but not for Revlon). “In most cases, Super Bowl advertisers target people—women and men, 2 years old to 90 years old. It’s not male or female. It’s an unannounced American holiday, and it’s a big day for everybody—men, women and children alike.”

But attitudes may change, of course, if more of those coveted eyeballs end up wearing contact lenses after Feb. 6.