Advertisers Put on Sunday Best

NEW YORK — Contrary to much of last year’s commentary on how Sept. 11 would affect advertising, Super Bowl spots once again aimed for belly-laugh humor-even in the form of exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek violence-and blockbuster entertainment.

For Fox, however, it was not a blockbuster Bowl, and sources said prices may have dipped as much as 20 percent below the estimated $1.9 million the network is claiming it earned per 30-second spot. It took until last Thursday for Fox to sell out all 30 minutes of commercial time.

Sources said some spots went for as low as $1.5 million, with one person citing a bottom of $1.4 million. In 2000, during dot-com mania, Super Bowl ads sold for as much as $2.5 million.

Electronic Data Systems and Volkswagen, both prominent Super Bowl advertisers last year, opted for a different media outlet this year: NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage, which begins Friday.

Among the last-minute Bowl buyers were Charles Schwab, Blockbuster, M&M/Mars and Taco Bell. Federal Express filled the final slot, according to sources.

First time Super Bowl advertisers included the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Levi’s Dockers, Yahoo!, H&R Block, the American Legacy Foundation, Universal Orlando Resort and the Quizno’s fast-food chain.

The latter aired two spots with outrageous visuals that poke fun at taste-test comparisons-a focus-group participant is shot in the back of the neck with a dart gun, and the threat of a guillotine is used to keep taste testers in line. The ads launch a new campaign from Cliff Freeman and Partners, New York.

Pop princess Britney Spears starred in a nostalgic musical number for Pepsi, a Super Bowl staple for the last 17 years. Joe Pytka directed the first-quarter, 90-second spot in which Spears took viewers through Pepsi’s advertising history from the ’50s to the present in period costume. A second, 30-second spot cut from the longer version ran during the second quarter.

Another veteran Bowl advertiser, Anheuser-Busch, ran a total of ten 30-second spots from its roster agencies. One Bud Light spot starred Cedric the Entertainer, who helps a friend talk to a beautiful woman. Others featured a falcon with a taste for Bud Light and a robot demolition show in which a minifridge takes out the champion.

E*Trade’s monkey made his third Super Bowl appearance. Levi’s followed up last year’s organ-donor spot with the funky “Crazy Legs,” winner of a Web voting contest.

“More than ever, people need a respite from the trials, tribulations, stress and worry that they’ve been experiencing these past few months,” said Bill Katz, CEO of BBDO, New York, which ran spots for Visa, FedEx, M&M/Mars and Charles Schwab. “This year, it’s time to relax, socialize, be entertained and get your mind off typical worries.”

While most advertisers stayed away from serious themes, there were several reminders of Sept. 11. The ONDCP aired two 30-second ads illustrating a connection between buying drugs and helping terrorists [Adweek, Jan. 21]. The spots, from Ogilvy & Mather in New York, were directed by Tony Kaye. “This is a good, clean, simple device for raising the issue,” said Chris Wall, senior partner at Ogilvy.

A touching spot for A-B paid tribute to New York’s losses on Sept. 11, showing the trademark Clydesdales crossing the Brooklyn Bridge and then stopping to kneel and bow at the sight of the city’s skyline. Newly added roster shop Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston created the spot.

A first-quarter black-and-white spot from parent TMP Worldwide featured Rudy Giuliani thanking the American people for their support for New York.