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3/5/99 - Alien Resurrection

Thanks to a consistent and costly association with the Super Bowl, Bud has turned the event into their Bowl. Everyone else just buys expensive time on it. Budweiser has even blown Goodyear's blimp (a former Super Bowl tradition) out of the sky with one of their own.

Nevertheless, there's one piece of Super Sunday that's still available to advertisers who aspire to a Bud-like relationship with the game: The Half Time Show.

During Super Bowl XXXIII, the honor of sponsoring a musical extravaganza featuring Gloria Estafan and Stevie Wonder went to Progressive Auto Insurance.

What? You never heard of Progressive Auto Insurance? According to their website, they've been around since 1937. I can't remember any advertising I've ever seen for them, though. Maybe they've been saving up their ad budget for the past 62 years, because they sure went for broke on the Super Bowl.

Sponsorship entitled them to brand it as "The Progressive Auto Insurance Halftime Show" and have their name mentioned throughout the first half of the game along with the appearance of a computer graphic. Plus their name was displayed on a sign at the base of the stage during the show. (Ironically "Kurzweil" the brandname on Stevie Wonder's organ, had about as much screen time and probably paid nothing for it.)

Besides sponsoring the Halftime Show, Progressive decided to go the whole nine yards and produce a big Super Bowl commercial filled with celebrities and special effects.

Since money was obviously no object, they went with a celebrity that rarely does commercials--ET. Why ET? Progressive's website, rightfully sensing this question would be on many minds, answers with "…he's a healer and a teacher. And he's a progressive being." What's more, Progressive wants him to become the "Smokey the Bear of highway safety."

Couldn't a company that's been in business 62 years come up with something more substantial to wrap themselves around than a "buckle up" public service campaign featuring an alien? Don't they understand that Smokey the Bear is a relevant spokescharacter because he lives where forest fires occur. ET, on the other hand, never wore a seat belt even though he flew around in a bicycle basket.

ET and his other ET clone friends don't wear seat belts while traveling through space in Progressive's Super Bowl spot, either. And that's unfortunate since they have a near fatal collision with a Space Shuttle piloted by Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell who, surprise, also aren't buckled up.

Well, at least it can be said that Progressive is consistently inconsistent in their brand communications.

The sponsorship certainly afforded them many opportunities to force fit the link between them and ET. But it was so senseless it just wouldn't take. Prior to Halftime they ran a couple of teasers that showed ET's hands doing "the wave" and passing a hot dog down through the stands. Just prior to their spot, they did a "behind the scenes" bit in which ET mingles with the performers and solves a power outage with his magic finger. Even after the show, he's shown one last time peering through binoculars in the crowd.

Through it all you kept wondering why ET wasn't shilling for someone more relevant, like a telecommunications company. Was it because Primco was already using that pink alien with a head shaped like their logo?

ET's glowing chest would make him a natural for a heartburn remedy like Tums or Tagamet. And if no one in that pharmaceutical category wanted him, what about an arthritis medicine tying into his healing touch?

I'm sure these and other appropriate products have contacted Spielberg's Ambling Entertainment and Universal over the years. So why did they strike a deal with a car insurance company? Maybe they were just waiting for an opportunity like this. A chance to relaunch their 18 year old entertainment brand on the largest media showcase of the year. And, best of all, have someone else foot the bill. Now that's progressive.