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Old reliables dominate Super Bowl commercials after last year's dot-coms suffer financially.


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001

It was deja vu on the Super Bowl XXXV TV commercial front.

Almost all of the e-commerce advertisers who filled the screen with over-the-top spots a year ago were dot-gone Sunday. Three are out of business. Only three of the 17 dot-com startups that tried to fashion brand name awareness with the most expensive air time around last time -- E-Trade, and -- invested in a return engagement.

Back in a dominant role were the old Super Bowl standbys: breweries, colamakers, credit card companies, snack foods, financial services companies and new films.

The shrunken ranks of prospects willing to fork out $2.3-million for a half-minute meant only 31 companies bought air time this year, down from 36 in 2000. But CBS was able to extract a record $200-million from advertisers eager to fling their message before the biggest single viewing audience of the year in hope that something sticks.

Many critics say Super Bowl commercials offer a glimpse into American pop culture. Others think they're more entertaining than the game. But when it comes to getting some bang for all those bucks, Super Bowl ads that are simply entertaining don't always have a payoff for the company footing the bill.

One of last year's most memorable spots, for instance, featured yoga students trading stock online at $8 a share. But was it Ameritrade or E-Trade? Here are a few observations about this year's crop.

The funniest spot was E-Trade's salute to last year's irreverent but largely irrelevant dot-com ads, including its own. The online stock trading site brought out of mothballs its monkey that shed a tear for a discarded Sock Puppet, the symbol of dot-com Super Bowl excess after the demise of shortly after last year's Super Bowl.

The humor went downhill fast after that. Even Anheuser Busch seemed to be casting about for a follow-up idea to its "Whassup!?" commercials. Cedric the Entertainer inadvertently spraying his date with a beer was a bit too mean-spirited. A severely overweight dog trying to squeeze through a pet door wasn't much funnier. A parody of the "Whassup?!" guys featuring a trio of square white guys drinking imports while saying "What are you doing?" seemed to show that Bud marketers themselves see the end nearing for "Whassup?!"

The most effective spot came from an unusual corner: the automobile industry. VW's spot showing two Gen X pals tossing sticks, pebbles and an old shoe to get something to fall out of a tree had a fat payoff when a new, sporty automobile crashed to the ground. While not ha-ha funny, the spot brought a smile and stimulated curiosity about the car, which was shown only for a split second.

EDS followed up last year's pointless commercial of cats being herded across the plains with an even more pointless reprise. This time, the Dallas computer services company staged the "running of the squirrels" in the streets of Pamplona, Spain. Human runners/casualties were seen being carried off in stretchers to prove little problems need "nimble" help from EDS. FedEx was a close second, with ads showing people being shot through the roofs of houses from La-Z-Boy-style recliners. It was supposed to show what happens when manufacturers don't rely on FedEx quick delivery when supplies ran out.

Some of the newest twists in Super Bowl advertising were not paid spots. CBS touted its new Survivor series five times in the first half alone, including a shot of Richard Hatch, winner of the first series, in the game crowd. The halftime show became a plugfest for MTV, a unit of CBS parent Viacom Inc.

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