Super Bowl: Sizing Up the Competition

Advertisers shelled out nearly $3 million for 30 seconds of attention on this year’s Super Bowl, to be broadcast Feb. 7 on CBS. The game is the only significant TV showcase for commercials left in today’s media-fractured environment, and advertisers are frantically putting the final touches on their plays for the day.

Many are jockeying for position by kicking up as much pre-game buzz as possible. Many are relying heavily on social-media efforts to crank up early anticipation for their creative. Coca-Cola, for instance, is using Facebook to offer sneak peeks of its ads and dangling the chance to watch the full cuts hours before the broadcast as part of the incentive (along with a charitable element).

Nearly 100 million viewers tuned in to the game last year, and similar numbers are expected this year, so the fight for viewer attention will be fierce. Here, we take an early look at how the category competition is shaping up.

Miller is again trying to muscle into Anheuser-Busch’s national category exclusivity by interrupting the Bud fest-five minutes of spots, mostly for Bud Light-with local spot buys for Miller High Life featuring the no-nonsense delivery guy who takes swipes at the beer giant while visiting small businesses around the country. Viewers will appreciate the David vs. Goliath strategy from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, but winning over beer drinkers will probably take more than amusing attacks on the unnamed beer giant’s brands that “prance out those fancy-pants commercials.” A-B, a perennial favorite, is rolling out ads that will most likely play better to the average male Super Bowl viewer. Bud Light’s lineup from St. Louis agency Cannonball includes spots with guys who attend a women’s book club only for the beer, a guy who builds a house out of Bud Light cans (shown), and guys whose voices turn electronically musical to get the party started. The spot likely to have the broadest appeal is a spoof on Lost, a smart pop culture tie-in that plays to the highly anticipated Feb. 2 return of ABC’s hit show. On Bud Light’s island, the survivors of a plane crash ignore the discovery of the plane’s radio system to celebrate a washed-up beverage cart filled with bottles of the beer.

The auto category has a handful of players racing for attention this year. Chrysler, the only American car brand advertising in the game, ignited an outcry for its multimillion-dollar outlay, but so far the teasers for the Dodge Charger, the first from new agency Wieden + Kennedy, are relatively quiet, usually not a good move for raucous party viewing. But the Portland, Ore., shop has produced a 60-second spot that must be more than a glam shot of a parked car, and its past history with brands like Nike shows it knows how to command Super Bowl attention. Still, it looks like the biggest battle for consumer appeal will be between Audi, with a reworking of a popular Cheap Trick song (“Dream Police” becomes “Green Police”), and Volkswagen, which is introducing the first work from its new agency, Deutsch/LA. VW will showcase its range of models with a spot based on the kids’ game Punch Buggy and includes an appearance by comedian Tracy Morgan and a surprise friend. But VW will have a tough time overtaking Audi’s pitch. The latter’s ad, comically picturing a world that persecutes environmental abusers, is drumming up early interest with Web ads crafted to look like PSAs from (who else?) the “Green Police.” And a memorable rock ‘n’ roll track goes a long way toward currying favor, especially in this game. Venables, Bell in San Francisco handles Audi.