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3/3/99 - $1.6 Million Fumble

The day after the Super Bowl, USA TODAY runs its annual "Ad Meter" ranking the popularity of the commercials. One year, for a change, they ought to redo their poll a month later. It'd be interesting to see how many $1.6 million per half-minute sponsors would be remembered, fondly or otherwise.

If such a study were conducted now, would the names of first time Bowl sponsors and come to mind?

Even with multiple choice questions, would anyone recall the Siebel Systems spot that ran twice during this year's game? Would anyone know what Siebel Systems does?

Yes, all it takes is money to buy airtime on the Super Bowl. Filling it with a message that's worthy of the year's biggest broadcast audience is another matter.

Consider last year's ad for Qualcomm digital phones. If its goal was to make Qualcomm a household name, it's failed miserably during the course of the past year. It featured a man who is awakened in a hotel room by the sound of foreign voices. He grabs his Qualcomm phone and rushes to the balcony. He sees a cheering third world crowd below him and waves his phone, unaware that the throng is hailing a dictator type on an adjoining balcony. Huh? Was there a creative strategy other than coming up with a storyboard that would get everyone out of the country on a shoot?

Unfortunately, this is representative of the kind of spot unsophisticated Super Bowl advertisers are apt to wind up with. Of course, for such advertisers, the whole point of having a spot on the Super Bowl is having a spot on the Super Bowl. Association with the event gives them legitimacy. And that's particularly helpful if they're trying to court the investment community.

Plus there are months of promotional mileage they can get out of telling customers they're going to be on the Bowl. This, in turn, creates the opportunity for a sweepstakes or perhaps a contest for their sales force with Bowl tickets as prizes. During the game, they can throw a party for key accounts. And after the game, they can bask in the glory of having been on it.

Gee, when you consider all the benefits of buying time on the Super Bowl, who cares if the spot itself doesn't communicate anything about the brand? Just the 130 million people watching, that's who.