E-Business Steps Up for the Super Bowl

Not everyone watches the Super Bowl just for the football. Given that many of the previous 37 Super Bowls were duller than watching golf on TV, some people would argue that the advertising is as much, if not more, of a reason to watch.

This year, AOL has posted several classic Super Bowl ads on its Web site and has teamed with CBS in an interactive contest that lets people vote on whether they believe Apple’s “1984” ad or Coca-Cola’s Mean Joe Greene is the best ad in Super Bowl history.

Two decades after that watershed “1984” ad, Apple is still planning a Super Bowl presence. The company is joining with Coca-Cola’s main rival, Pepsi, to kick off a cross-promotion campaign in which one out of three Pepsi bottle caps will contain a coupon good for free music at the iTunes Music Store (iTMS). And Apple is one of several e-commerce vendors using the Super Bowl to promote products.

What makes companies like Apple, Monster.com and AOL keep coming back to the Super Bowl as a venue to promote their online businesses?

The Event Within

Yankee Group vice president Boyd Peterson told the E-Commerce Times that the advertising world has been doing a lot of soul-searching about where the traditional 30-second commercial will be in the next three to four years. With the proliferation of TiVO and DVR recorders, he said, TV increasingly has become background noise while people surf the Web, IM their friends or cook dinner.

“But the Super Bowl is different because it has become such an event,” Peterson noted. “People watch the ads when they normally TiVO through.”

Super Bowl ads showcase a certain public relations aspect that supersedes regular advertising because of the awareness they generate, Peterson said. After the game, people often discuss their opinions of the latest Tabasco or Charmin ad.

“You can bet USA Today will have a news story about these commercials, just as you are covering them now,” Peterson said. “That’s indicative of more than everyday advertising. And those are pretty high stakes if you’re an e-commerce advertiser. You’re getting compared to other products that you’re not normally compared with, like Charmin or Miller Beer.”

Apple Ad Preview

In the Apple iTunes/Pepsi Music Giveaway advertisement, a girl sitting in front of an iMac says: “Hi, I’m one of the kids who was prosecuted for downloading music free off of the Internet. And I’m here to announce in front of 100 million people that we’re still going to download music free off the Internet.”

The commercial then cuts to other teenagers who already have been identified as “charged,” “accused,” “incriminated” and “busted” downing bottles of Pepsi. The girl raises her own bottle and declares:

“And there’s not a thing anyone can do about it!”

Plusses of Partnering

Charlene Li, principal analyst for media and marketing at Forrester Research, told the E-Commerce Times that the Super Bowl is a marketplace event that can kick off the full year’s advertising campaign. For Apple and iTunes, that means the Super Bowl provides huge reach in terms of the number of people watching.

By partnering with Pepsi, Apple is affiliating its own brand with another that shares a similar identity, Li said. When people think of Pepsi, they think of “The Pepsi Generation” — young and trendy. Using Pepsi as a distribution conduit is a good move, she noted.

At the same time, Pepsi also gets a lift from iTunes, Li added. After all, iTunes has built a hip, young audience of teens who are very much into their music. By pairing up with iTMS, Pepsi reinforces itself as the cooler cola brand.

In fact, Pepsi and Apple’s synergy of purpose indicates greater maturity on the part of companies that conduct e-commerce in terms of the marketing goals they are trying to accomplish, Li said.

Going for Broke (Not Going Broke)

As for AOL, Li said that its latest campaign, in which the company pairs up members of the Discovery Channel hit show American Choppers, is a bid to reposition itself as a great place to get both dial-up and broadband service after having lost millions of subscribers in recent months.

In fact, Peterson said AOL is trying to go for broke. In addition to its partnership with American Choppers, the company’s decision to pair with CBS to show the best Super Bowl commercials of bygone years is another way to get the word out to nonsubscribers and subscribers about what is available on AOL these days.

Meanwhile, a company like Monster.com likely continues to advertise during the Super Bowl to prove that, unlike so many past e-commerce Super Bowl advertisers, it still exists.

“Because you can spend money so flagrantly, it shows, in fact, that you are still viable,” Peterson said. “And if Monster.com still has the wherewithal to spend that amount, it must still be doing something good.”

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