Ads Tame for Super Game

Jan 17, 2005  •  Post A Comment

High-profile erectile dysfunction advertisers Levitra and Cialis, which were new to the Super Bowl telecast last year, are not expected to return during this year’s game on Fox, industry executives said.

Two factors are keeping the advertisers on the sidelines, media agency executives said.

First, after completing extensive launch marketing campaigns for the products last year, the pharmaceuticals’ marketers don’t need to heavily advertise.

What’s more, the advertisers may not want the limelight on products and commercials that in today’s climate some critics perceive as racy. They are concerned that high visibility during the annual event that a year ago kicked off furor over broadcast indecency standards could be taken as particularly off-color.

“I wouldn’t want to speak for them,” said Brian McCarthy, director of corporate communications for the NFL, “but that could be a reason.”

Indeed, Super Bowl ads this year are expected to be much tamer than last year, when in addition to the pharmaceutical companies’ putting long-lasting erections front of mind, other advertisers presented images of flatulent horses and cussing children.

Still, that doesn’t mean the ads won’t be any fun.

“The one thing I’ve learned is to expect the unexpected,” said John Osborn, president and CEO of BBDO, New York. His Omnicom Group agency is producing spots for Visa and FedEx this year.

At least one advertiser is determined to have fun. Leave it to Anheuser-Busch to send up last year’s proceedings. The St. Louis brewer is considering a commercial aimed at poking fun at last year’s bra-popping expose, according to TelevisionWeek’s sister publication Advertising Age.

A spokeswoman for Eli Lilly & Co., which markets Cialis, said, “We are still considering our options.” A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, which co-markets Levitra with Bayer AG, said the company won’t “confirm or deny any advertising plans.” A spokesman for Pfizer, which markets Viagra, said the company would not disclose its plans. Viagra, another ED medication, did not advertise in last year’s Super Bowl.

With three weeks to go, Fox has four or five 30-second commercials left to sell in the Super Bowl. The spots are priced at $2.4 million each, according to media agency executives. Fox is roughly on the same pace as last year’s sales effort by CBS. A Fox executive declined comment on the network’s sales effort.

Most of the big-ring advertisers are back, including PepsiCo’s Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay and automakers General Motors Corp. and Anheuser-Busch.

Among the Super Bowl virgins are Ameriquest Mortgage Co., Novartis’ Ciba Vision, credit-card giant MBNA and Cosentino’s Silestone countertop brand. Fast-feeder McDonald’s appears for the first time since 1996-though last year it bought a pre-game spot. Subway has also bought a thirty-second unit.

The dot-com category seems underrepresented given its growth prospects. Last year Expedia, America Online and Monster.com were big advertisers. This year two relatively unknown companies, Careerbuilder.com and Godaddy.com, fill Fox’s logbook. Texas Instruments has a spot buy in most markets.

A notable absence is Procter & Gamble, which promoted its Charmin brand last year, along with Monster.com and America Online. Also absent are two advertisers who added a more solemn tone last year: the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and anti-smoking group American Legacy Foundation.

The Super Bowl will air Feb. 6 from Jacksonville, Fla.

For last year’s Super Bowl on CBS, Levitra and Cialis, two relatively new ED products, bought the game looking to gain market share against industry leader Viagra. ED drugs were a fast-growing advertising category-especially in male-target programming such as televised sports.

After the halftime incident in which Janet Jackson bared a breast, a number of lawmakers and TV pressure group officials called the NFL and its TV partners to look at all in-game content, including ED advertising.

No formal actions were taken regarding advertising. But late last year the Food and Drug Administration demanded that Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, pull one TV commercial because it did not adequately disclose side effects. Because of this, and concerns over COX-2 prescription drugs such as Celebrex and Vioxx, many pharmaceuticals have pulled back advertising on some products.

Drug companies could be responding to increased NFL scrutiny of in-game content as well as TV advertising, according to industry analysts. For this Super Bowl, the NFL has already told some of its marketing partners who are airing commercials in the game to modify their creative content. The NFL’s Mr. McCarthy wouldn’t disclose company names.

Mr. McCarthy said standards and practices issues pertaining to advertising content are still the purview of its TV partners-which means Fox in the case of this year’s Super Bowl.

Levitra is an official NFL marketing partner, but it is not required to buy TV advertising time in the Super Bowl. Viagra has never bought into the Super Bowl-though it advertises in NFL regular-season and playoff games, as do other ED drugs.

Advertising Age contributed to this report.