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Sanitizing the Super Bowl
The pressure to keep it clean hasn't stopped advertisers from shelling out a record $2.4M per spot.
February 4, 2005: 9:20 AM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer
Monkeys are the theme of new ad campaign that includes 2 Super Bowl ads.
Monkeys are the theme of new ad campaign that includes 2 Super Bowl ads.
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Here's some encouraging news for anyone who thinks that the Super Bowl will be humdrum after last year's debauchery.

The Lingerie Bowl will be back on pay-per-view. And there's always the possibility of another errant streaker rushing the field.

But beyond that, it's likely to be all good, clean fun. Based on last year's critique, the ads -- at a record $2.4 million for a 30-second spot -- might not be all that entertaining. But they'll definitely be clean.

"I don't think anyone expects anything outrageous to happen," said Jack Myers, an independent media and advertising analyst. "There's definitely been a backlash against the advertising and caution against any risque humor."

For that, viewers have to thank Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during last year's live Super Bowl half time show, and the government crackdown on raunchy entertainment that followed.

So say good-bye to the flatulent Budweiser horse. Don't expect to see Mike Ditka hawking impotency drugs. And, yes, recent reports that Mickey Rooney's bare butt was due to make an appearance are true: But Fox, the News Corp (Research). unit broadcasting the game on Feb. 6, rejected the spot, thereby sparing viewers at least one searing image.

The new puritanism doesn't mean that the ads won't be funny. It just means marketers will have to work a lot harder to get laughs.

They appear to be as eager as ever to try.

Up and up and up

The $2.4 million average price for a half-minute ad is a 6 percent increase from 2004 and more than double the cost from a decade ago. At press time, Fox had sold 90 percent of the 59 slots available, putting the network on track to haul in more than $140 million from the broadcast.

The Super Bowl, the most widely watched sport event in the U.S., has long commanded the highest ad rates of any television program. By way of comparison, 30-second ads on prime time typically run about $400,000, though it's worth noting that last year's NBC 'Friends' finale cost advertisers $2 million a slot.

As for the half-time show, last year's scandal over Jackson's bare breast didn't dampen prices any. Ameriquest Mortgage is paying a record $15 million to sponsor what's sure to be a straitlaced intermission featuring Paul McCartney. The price is 50 percent higher than what America Online paid in 2004.

"The marketplace for the game this year has been very strong," Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said, declining further comment.

Andrew Donchin, director of national broadcast for media buying firm Carat USA, says the Super Bowl is unique in the number of attentive consumers it delivers advertisers.

"The Super Bowl is like a national holiday," he said. "People are going to sit and watch commercials more intently than they ever have." Plus viewers can watch a post-game instant replay of all the commercials on The NFL Network.

Analysts predict the cost of a Super Bowl ad will keep rising. "I don't see any end to the upward spiral," said Myers.


This year, advertisers willing to pay top dollar are both newcomers and old-timers. Perennials like Anheuser-Busch, Ford Motor, and Pepsi-Cola are back, while others like job search site Monster Worldwide are taking a pass.

Chicago-based, a Monster (Research) competitor, is making its Super Bowl ad debut with two commercials that are part of a new $200 million campaign featuring a male worker whose colleagues are monkeys -- real monkeys.

Of the newcomers, one Super Bowl advertiser stands out for its sense of deja vu., a closely held Scottsdale, Ariz., reseller of Internet domain names, will sponsor one ad and, in all likelihood, conjure up images of the late 1990s excess when dot.coms blew through their cash hordes -- for some, by advertising on the Super Bowl.

Bob Parsons, president of, says his is no fly-by-night operation. He notes that the company has been in the Web site hosting business since 2000, when the Internet bubble burst. The company had sales topping $100 million last year and "throws off a couple of million dollars" a month in free cash flow, he said.

Parsons is also the company's sole investor. That means he -- not the venture capitalists of yore -- is footing the bill for the ad, which cost $1 million to make, on top of Fox's price (which Parsons declined to disclose).

Parsons set out six months ago to build's awareness using traditional advertising. "The Super Bowl is the perfect medium for us," said Parsons, who estimates that roughly a third or more of the game's viewers have high-speed Internet access and, hence, are his target audience.

Like other Super Bowl advertisers, Parsons won't talk about the content of's commercial in hopes of maximizing its effect. "I've been sworn to secrecy," he said.

Anheuser-Busch (Research), the biggest advertiser with five minutes of Super Bowl airtime, is also keeping mum. The maker of Budweiser, known for its familiar Clydesdales and frogs, has developed several ads but hasn't decided which ones to run, a spokeswoman said.

Last year its characters included a flatulent horse and a donkey aspiring to be a Clydesdale.

Even if this year's ads are toned down compared to prior years, viewers can still expect attempts at humor.

"You have to be entertaining," said Richard Castellini, vice president of consumer marketing at  Top of page


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