In massive brick-and-mortar structures in major media centers across America, cunning ad executives have convinced their biggest clients to fork over $2.4 million to buy 30 seconds of airtime.
How could anyone in their right mind keep falling for such a con, you ask? Well, let's see. Do you remember these taglines?
"Wow! Thanks, Mean Joe."
"Bud ... weis ... errr."
"And we're not the Osbournes ... we're the Osmonds!"
If you can connect those snippets to their respective products in three seconds or less, you understand the method to the madness. They all come from memorable Super Bowl ads, and let's face it: Since the NFL championship games frequently fall flat, many fans and helpless bystanders stuck at Super Bowl parties watch the broadcast mainly to see the commercials, which are dissected, rated and discussed for days afterward. That makes them the most exorbitantly expensive little pieces of real estate on the TV landscape.
The 30-second spot rate has remained "flat" at $2.4 million each, the same price charged during the 2005 telecast. (That means Ford isn't spending more for Super Bowl commercials this year, which should come as a comfort to all those Wixom workers.) But that figure doesn't include what it costs to produce the damn things. Apple Computer's sci-fi movie introduction of Macintosh during the 1984 Super Bowl still ranks as one of the costliest commercials ever filmed: $800,000 then, $1.4 million in 2005 dollars, and directed by Ridley Scott, no less. It aired once.
This year, the all-day hype and foolishness takes place Sunday on ABC (Channel 7 in Detroit) for the last time; NBC takes over next year. CBS is trying to cash in by airing Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials Top 40 Countdown, the night before at 8 p.m. Saturday (Channel 62 in Detroit). There are even several Web sites devoted exclusively to Super Bowl commercials; check out superbowl-ads.com.
No matter how the action on the field unfolds, this promises to be a fascinating Super Bowl, commercial-wise. After Janet Jackson's celebrated wardrobe malfunction during XXXVIII gave new meaning to the phrase "boob tube," the 2004 telecast was the epitome of puritanical restraint, and the overall advertising package was noticeably lamer as a result. In one extreme case of overreaction, the NFL rejected a spot that included a momentary glimpse of Mickey Rooney's bare bottom. (Censors, take note: Mickey Rooney's aged, wrinkled, pasty ass would not be deemed erotic or suggestive by Mrs. Rooney, much less millions of TV viewers.)
They key question this year: How far (or wild, or low) will advertisers go this time? Couple that with the expected clash of testosterone between Ford and GM, and there may be more big hits during the breaks than on the field.
Don't fool yourselves: There's no way gray, cold, Rust Belt metro Detroit would have played host to two of the 40 Super Bowls if not for the colossal amounts of cash poured into NFL coffers over the years by our automakers. And with the battle back on home turf, General Motors has wrapped itself (and its Ren Cen headquarters) in the "XL" logo as the official auto sponsor of the event yet the game is being played at Ford Field. How delicious. Oh, testicles will be measured here, folks.
Then there are those old troopers who won't be joining the promo parade this time. McDonald's, Visa and H&R Block, among others, are shifting their advertising focus to the upcoming and cheaper Winter Olympics on NBC, in the hope of more bang for their buck. On the other hand, GoDaddy Software, Inc., the Web domain registry (godaddy.com) that had its commercial starring a buxom model gyrating before a Senate committee pulled after only one Super Bowl airing last year, recently held a press conference to state they can't wait to jump back into the fray with another "GoDaddy-esque" ad. Oh, boy.
Expect to see the careerbuilder.com chimps back to their monkey business in the office, the Burger King taking on NFL players helmet-to-crown after the kickoff, and the usual ad blitz from Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), which will again be the biggest spender on Super Bowl Sunday (but the company says it's considering cutting back its budget dramatically in years to come).
What a shame that would be. That husband sliding off the satin sheets and flying through his bedroom window for a Bud Light, and the two dudes choosing a six-pack over toilet paper at the checkout line have to be two of my favorite commercials in recent memory. Expect new memories to be made this Sunday.Jim McFarlin writes about the boob tube for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org