Super Bowl Ads: What To Watch For Between Plays

This weekend, more than 100 million people will gather around their televisions to watch the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. But that's only part of the entertainment: The commercials often draw more Monday morning quarterbacking than the game itself. Linda Wertheimer talks with author and former ad man James Othmer about what will play between the plays Sunday.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This weekend, 100 million people are expected to gather around their televisions to watch the Super Bowl. And in the weeks building up to the game, much of the chatter has been about the plays between the plays - the ads.

One ad in particular will feature Tim Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback from the University of Florida. This is an issue ad for Focus on the Family, an anti-abortion group.

For a little pre-game analysis, were joined by James Othmer. Hes a former ad man and the author of the book Adland, which was published last year. Good morning.

Mr. JAMES OTHMER (Author, Adland): Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this is not the first issue ad. There have been anti-smoking ads, anti-drug ads run during the Super Bowl. But this one seems more controversial. I guess what Im wondering is whether this is an appropriate audience for this message.

Mr. OTHMER: Well, Focus on the Family has already won the PR debate because its the most talked about ad in the Super Bowl. Even if they were to be banned at the last minute, theyd still have gotten their moneys worth tenfold, because its talked about, its discussed, its blogged.

CBS changed their policy towards accepting advocacy ads last year, and this is really one of the first tests on that policy.

WERTHEIMER: There do seem to be some limits, though, as to how far out there CBS wants to get.

Mr. OTHMER: Theres a question regarding another company called ManCrunch.com which is a gay dating service. They submitted an ad, and it was declined by CBS, and theres some contention as to the circumstances surrounding the decline.

CBS, at first, was said to have said they were sold out. Then there was a question about ManCrunchs ability to have the money for the 30 seconds spot. Then it became an issue of standards and practices. So it became quite controversial because ManCrunch is not acceptable and Focus on the Family, with what appears to be as a flat out anti-abortion ad, is acceptable.

WERTHEIMER: One advertiser that is not in this years line up is Pepsi. For the first time in 23 years, the company will not advertise its sodas during the game, although there are some other PepsiCo brands which will run ads like Doritos, the soda company won't. Why not?

Mr. OTHMER: Well, its really quite a clever play on Pepsis part. They are the first major brand to say were not going to be a part of this. Were going to commit more than $20 million to social media. Their absence is a topic of concern. Is social media the new wave?

WERTHEIMER: So do you think Super Bowl ads still matter? Do you think the price is going to come down?

Mr. OTHMER: I dont believe so. The prices have held $2.4 to $2.8 million for 30 seconds. Approximately $90,000 a second for your ad is a lot of money to spend, but youre getting 100 million viewers. Now, youre also able to build an entire marketing program around your Super Bowl. Its not just the 30 seconds that youre on the air, its months leading up to it.

WERTHEIMER: Now, in 1984, Ridley Scott directed an ad for Apple. That has become iconic.

(Soundbite of Apple commercial)

Unidentified Man #1: We shall prevail.

Unidentified Man #2: On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.

WERTHEIMER: So, James Othmer, have you seen or heard of anything that could have the kind of impact that that ad did?

Mr. OTHMER: I think that was a perfect storm because it happened to be 1984, obviously, and it was heralding the onset of a new aspect of our culture, the personal computer generation. It only ran once. It made it almost J.D. Salinger like. I dont see any ad coming forward thats going to have that kind of resonance and that kind of memorability.

And every time I ever worked on a Super Bowl campaign, where there was a chance of having a spot in the big game, everyone would reference 1984 to the point where were all sick of it. But they aspire to it. I think the commercials are incredibly entertaining. One aspect of the advocacy aspect is these ads dont tend to be as entertaining. And if the Super Bowl becomes a platform for controversial advocacy-based ads, I think the entertainment value will go down.

WERTHEIMER: And well all go get a beer.

Mr. OTHMER: Well all go get a beer if viewers will tune out and then networks may rethink their policies once again.

WERTHEIMER: James Othmer is the author of Adland. Thank you very much for talking to us today.

Mr. OTHMER: Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.