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Super Bowl sparks some super advertising blogs

The Baltimore Sun

The History Channel documentary Life After People the other night concluded that 10,000 years after man becomes extinct, little beyond remains of the Great Pyramids and Mount Rushmore would indicate that human beings ever walked the earth.

The producers forgot to include endless replay of Super Bowl commercials on the Internet, however.

TV spots during the big game have been prime water-cooler talk for more than 20 years, but because of the growth of high-speed Internet and more recently video-sharing, the spots linger long past the morning after. And fascination about the commercials has fostered a virtual cottage industry of Web sites that cater to news, leaks and discussion about their content. Super Bowl ad compilations, blogs, even clever parodies, reside in various places online, such as sports.aol.com/nfl/superbowlads and spike.com/superbowl.

It's all an eerie example of life imitating art since the commercial that launched the Super Bowl ad-as-artform, an Apple Computer commercial in 1984, portended that computers would change the way we live.

The championship of the National Football League, aka America's biggest unofficial holiday, long ago also became the Super Bowl of the advertising industry. Many years, the ads, particularly the slapstick ones, get a bigger rise out of living rooms than the football. And just as the game itself produces heroes and goats, the very public vetting of these ads that cost millions to produce alters careers in corporate advertising suites.

Ken Phipps, 44, had been fascinated by the Super Bowl phenomenon since high school. He launched superbowlads.com in 1997 when it was a struggle to find articles online about the Super Bowl ads.

Some advertisers now send him their spots ahead of the game, a big change from a few years ago when they didn't seem to want their ads seen beforehand, said Phipps, an online advertising designer in Raleigh, N.C.

"Now they understand that getting it out there is part of the whole reason for doing it. You're capitalizing on the hype," he says.

Come spring, he acknowledges, superbowlads.com is a "ghost town," but the day after the game he typically gets about 500,000 visitors to his site - sort of a "time capsule" of all the ads past and present. It's more a labor of love than a moneymaker, he says.

Likewise for the AdBowl, a site that allows people to vote on which commercial they like best, run by an Albuquerque, N.M., advertising agency named McKee Wallwork Cleveland.

President Steve McKee said the site evolved from a company Super Bowl party in 2000. Guests had so much fun voting by paper scraps on which ad they liked best, the company moved the ballot online the following year. It got 225 votes in 2002, mostly by word of mouth.

Last year's AdBowl garnered more than 2,800 entries. Most voters provide some basic demographic information about themselves, too, so the ad preferences can be broken down by sex and age. Men and women seem to agree on their favorite ads more than one might think, based on the unscientific online vote.

"It's the biggest female programming there is. More females watch the Super Bowl than the Academy Awards," McKee said. "It's one of the last places where you can reach America."

Fox was able to sell air time for the game more quickly than networks have in recent years, according to industry reports. The huge stage and interest have driven the cost of a 30-second ad for the evening to $2.7 million or more. That's 10 times what it cost to advertise during the first, more austere title game in 1967, when it was about $40,000, or $245,000 adjusted for inflation, according to rumorsdaily.com.

The Baltimore-based athletic apparel company Under Armour was a hot topic on some of the online advertising blogs this week, especially after its stock tanked after reports it was spending one-third of its annual media budget on its first Super Bowl commercial next Sunday. The stock partly recovered last week.

Steve Battista, vice president of brand for the company, said it has planned for years to air a Super Bowl commercial to unveil its first running shoe, which it plans to do next Sunday. It locked up a minute-long spot with Fox Broadcasting last summer for the first quarter of the game, when the chip dip and 90 million pairs of eyes are still fresh.

"Some people feel they can comment on the investment, but you can't deny the viewership or the attentiveness," Battista said. "We're going to stand out ... with an epic commercial."

Bob Parsons, founder and chief executive officer of GoDaddy.com, writes a blog named "Hot Points" in which he chronicles the trials and tribulations of getting his company's next Super Bowl commercial on the air. The Web site register company, known for its racy commercials, has toyed with network sensibilities in the years since the infamous halftime "wardrobe malfunction." Parsons contended on his blog last week that buxom women were being discriminated against compared to "suspiciously thin-looking ones," since Victoria's Secret didn't have as much trouble getting its Super Bowl ad to pass muster. (The lingerie maker famously crashed its Web site the last time it made a splash on Super Bowl Sunday, in 1999, when more than a million football fans were lured by ads to an online fashion show.)

One of the most cynically succinct descriptions of the Super Sunday ad phenomenon could be found on the "Shotgun Marketing Blog" written by Chris Houchens.

"We're entering advertising's most holy time of year. ... For a few weeks in the dead of winter, EVERYONE and their cousin is suddenly an advertising expert. ... But the barometer of the 'success' of the ads is usually based on which one was the funniest / most controversial / etc. It's never on which ones were the most effective and caused people to buy the product, increase awareness, or any other quantifiable measure. ...

"Let me give you this year's winning creative pitch for free: The hooves of flatulent horses dig up the corpse of Robert Goulet who then runs through a CGI generated Orwellian world full of bikini-clad college girls. He throws a hammer through a TV screen that has some contest-driven user-generated-content on it. Then the screen fades to black for 15 seconds."

Creative, maybe, but the winning pitch?

That'll be for online voters to decide.

andrew.ratner@baltsun.com

Andrew Ratner, a former technology reporter, is Today editor of The Sun.

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