Stuart Elliott: Super Bowl 50: One 'L' of a Game for Madison Avenue

By Stuart Elliott Report Archives

As another Super Bowl Sunday nears, I'm back in the saddle again.

Why bring up Gene Autry's signature song? Well, because I've resumed, after a one-year hiatus, covering the colorful, clamorous and competitive Ad Bowl that goes on inside the Super Bowl. (Or to put it in a more contemporary way, just when I thought I was out, Media Village pulled me back in.)

There'll be plenty to write about before, during and after Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7 because Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year for Madison Avenue as well as for football. Wait, what? Super Bowl 50? Not Super Bowl L?

A note of explanation: For this 50th time the Super Bowl is being played, the National Football League chose to forgo its usual Roman numerals, designating the game with a "50" instead of the letter "L." The NFL is supposed to resume its regular pattern next year, with Super Bowl LI, though that may change once the powers that be realize "LI" can be pronounced "Lie" or might confuse fans into thinking the game will be played on Long Island. (Let's not even bring up that while this Super Bowl is Super Bowl 50, 2017 will mark the actual 50th anniversary of the first Super Bowl, aka Super Bowl I.)

Last February, a couple of months after leaving my longtime job as the advertising columnist of the New York Times, I decided to skip the Super Bowl. It was no big loss to miss the game because I'm not a football fan. (Let's go, Mets!) And without an outlet for my reporting, I thought I could use a break from following the commercials after 26 Ad Bowls in a row.

I'd written about Super Bowl ads every year from 1989 through 2014: Three times for USA Today and the rest for the Times. The three years at USA Today also were the first three years of the paper's annual Super Bowl Ad Meter, which was instrumental in helping create the phenomenon of Super Bowl commercials as special spots -- far better than everyday pitches -- that viewers ought to watch. Also contributing were "1984," the commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh, and the Bud Bowls, eight series of football-themed spots from Anheuser-Busch for various Budweiser-branded beers.

What did I do instead of watching Super Bowl XLIX last year? I went to the movies, something I also did on the Super Bowl Sundays before 1989. If you're not a football fan, an ad fan or a reporter on the advertising beat, it's definitely worth trying while the Super Bowl is being played to get into a popular restaurant, a hit movie or a show that's in demand. (It's not always a sure thing; "Hamilton" is sold out on Feb. 7.) The film I saw played to a half-empty theater and the streets of Manhattan were quiet when I headed home afterwards.

It looks as if jumping back into the Ad Bowl now is a good idea. Maybe because "50" is such a nice round number, more attention is being paid to the Madison Avenue playbook for the game; for instance, I've already done two interviews with major mainstream media outlets about the history of the Ad Bowl, what advertisers have in store for Super Bowl 50 and how social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can amplify interest in the big game's commercials.

That interest also may be stimulated by another nice round number: $5 million, the record sum that CBS reportedly is charging for each 30 seconds of commercial time during the game, up from about $4.4 million for each 30-second spot during Super Bowl XLIX. Kantar Media is estimating that the Eye Network will take in more than $400 million in ad revenue on Feb. 7, another record, and up from $345.4 million last year.

To date, more than two dozen brands have identified themselves as buyers of time in Super Bowl 50. At this point, the car category is the most crowded, with seven marques from Acura to Toyota Prius. Tech is next, with six brands, among them PayPal, Squarespace and Wix.com.

"For us it was an easy call" to return to the Super Bowl, Vered Avrahami, head of global communications at Wix.com, said in an email. "There is no other platform that enables you to reach 120 million people all at once, and the buzz surrounding Super Bowl ads can be leveraged even further than that."

"For example, last year our #ItsThatEasy campaign brought in over 300 million extra views beyond the 115 million we received during the game," she said. For Super Bowl 50, Wix.com is collaborating with DreamWorks Animation on a commercial that features characters from "Kung Fu Panda 3," which will carry the theme #StartStunning

Also scheduled to run spots during Super Bowl 50 are at least three soft-drink brands, three candies, Taco Bell, Doritos -- and Colgate toothpaste.

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