Let the Sunshine In


NEW YORK Back in 2000, a chimpanzee helped E*Trade tell 84 million Super Bowl viewers that it "just wasted $2 million" advertising on the game. The point of the 30-second ad, of course, which featured two men in a garage clapping along with the dancing primate, was to ask, "What are you doing with your money?" The spot from then-agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was a commentary on both perennially extravagant Super Bowl productions and the excess of those halcyon dot-com days. In the 2001 game, E*Trade's chimp traveled through a ghost town of failed Internet companies, a tear rolling down his cheek.

"It reflected the times, but didn't take itself too seriously," says Paul Venables, co-founder of Venables Bell & Partners, of that ad. (This year Venables is doing its second Super Bowl spot for Audi, a counterintuitive ad, given the recession, for the new Audi R8 luxury sports car.)

As we well know, that tough time now looks like Easy Street. As a result, even some longtime Super Bowl supporters have opted out of the 2009 game, including Federal Express -- which had been a sponsor for 12 years running -- and General Motors. FedEx's director of advertising, Steve Pacheco, cites the obvious reason: the economy. "There's a time to justify such an ad spend," he explained in a statement, "and a time to step back."

Still, for the clients shelling out $3 million this year to reach an estimated 100 million viewers, it'll be business as usual. Industry execs predict a Super Bowl ad party less raucous than years past, and one that will avoid the dismal tone of the times. What we'll see more of, they say, are product-specific or sales-oriented messages, and less-aggressive humor.

"People are a little frightened to celebrate," says Bill Bruce, chairman and CCO of BBDO New York, noting it could come across as brands "not getting it. ... There are a lot of people who have lost jobs, homes; there are serious problems out there." (BBDO will have General Electric, Monster and NFL spots on the Super Bowl, though Bruce declined to discuss their content.)

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are both going the optimistic route. Coke's recently launched global campaign, "Open happiness," continues with a Super Bowl spot in which teens connect over a Coke and another with an army of insects stealing a napping man's soda. "Coke is [not] going to solve the economic problems of the world or the Middle East crisis. [It's] a small, simple pleasure in people's hectic day," says Joe Tripodi, Coke's CMO and commercial officer.

Other brands are also offering a (small) break from the world's woes. This year's game is a "bastion of relief, and a time to kick back with family and friends more than ever," says Keith Levy, vp of marketing at Anheuser-Busch, which has four-and-a-half minutes of ad time this year, its 21st consecutive Super Bowl showing. "We want to make sure our message is reassuring and uplifting."

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