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Super Bowl Spending

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The Super Bowl is sold out.

At close to $3 million per thirty-second commercial -- or approximately $100,000 a second -- CBS announced they've sold every available commercial spot for this Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, Florida. Industry analysts believe CBS will reap over $200 million in advertising sales for the game, including both the pre- and post-game shows.

Super Bowl viewers will be treated to a new E*Trade baby, Don Rickles's voice for Teleflora, five minutes of Anheuser-Busch commercials, a humorous ad from the U.S. Census Bureau and GoDaddy.com, and although CBS accepted a controversial pro-life commercial from the evangelical Christian group, Focus on the Family, they've rejected a commercial from mancrunch.com, a gay man's dating site, showing two male football fans passionately kissing.

Several automotive companies will feature ads in the Super Bowl, including Kia, Chrysler, Hyundai, Honda, Audi and Volkswagen, although Ford has chosen to advertise in the pre-game, and GM opted out. American banks are not advertising this year, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper are in, but wait, Pepsi is out?

After 23 years of advertising in the Super Bowl, Pepsi stepped away from the game, instead pledging $20 million in grants to a social media campaign, called Pepsi Refresh Project, aimed at supporting health, arts and culture, education, and environmental programs in local American communities and organizations.

So, with Pepsi's changing their advertising spending and strategy, I got to thinking:
Imagine if Super Bowl advertisers allowed shareholders and customers a voice in their marketing and branding decisions. Would Super Bowl advertisers stakeholders agree to spend $3 million for one thirty-second commercial, hoping to reach a potential 100 million viewers once? Or would they take the same money to do good and possibly reach the same number of people more frequently over the course of an entire year?

My cousin, Mike Vorhaus, an expert in new media, and president of Magid Advisors, tells me that if a company has a minimum $30 to $40 million multi-media advertising budget, and plans to launch a product or reinforce a brand, then advertising in the Super Bowl is a good idea. "Super Bowl ads are iconic," Mike told me, "but to work, they should be followed with some kind of buzz campaign, and that means the internet."

Chris Brogan, author of the best-seller, Trust Agents, and social media guru, says for only $300,000 -- one-tenth of a Super Bowl ad -- his award-winning social media company, New Marketing Labs, could execute an incredibly extensive six-month marketing program, including blogs, video, audio, and webinars, generating consistent new creative ideas. Brogan, who advises major companies like, Citrix Online, Sony Electronics USA, Pearson Education, Microsoft, Cisco, MolsonCoors, and Pepsico, said a $300,000 engagement would also go to community building along many social platforms, focusing on lead generation, sales, and customer loyalty. Certainly not as sexy as a Super Bowl commercial, but effective.

Here's another idea: What if one Super Bowl advertiser chose not to promote their own product, but instead promoted charitable giving to aid earthquake relief in Haiti, driving traffic to an online charity evaluator, Charity Navigator, or The American Red Cross.

Sandra Miniutti, Charity Navigator's CFO, told me they evaluate over 5,400 of America's largest charities, and that nearly $2.5 million in charitable giving flowed through their site last year, with the average donation about $120. Consider: if a Super Bowl advertiser wanted to forgo one ad this year and instead run that $3 million through the 5,400 charities in Charity Navigator, each would receive $555. That's almost five times as much as they get in an average donation.

Another $3 million option for a Super Bowl advertiser would be to fund Erik Proulx's new movie, Lemonade, Detroit. Proulx's first documentary, Lemonade, the Movie, follows 16 professionals who, after losing their advertising jobs, create lemonade from lemons, as they move on in life to do great things. Proulx, whose mission is inspiring struggling and underemployed people to reinvent themselves, will shoot Lemonade, Detroit to show "disarming resilience that belies the statistics and headlines." Proulx told me, "Lemonade, Detroit will profile not just the people who are reinventing themselves, but the psyche of an entire city that realizes it can no longer depend on a single industry for its livelihood. There is an amazing insurgence of the entrepreneurial spirit there. And those stories need to be told."

Super Bowl Sunday is the top day for pizza delivery in the U.S. I asked Tim McIntyre, Domino's Pizza's, vice president, communications, if they planned on participating in the $3 million Super Bowl advertising fray.

"While it's many an advertiser's dream to appear on the Super Bowl, we don't necessarily need to," said McIntyre. "America knows that pizza is the delivered food of choice on Super Bowl Sunday. We also benefit when other pizza companies advertise, because when it comes to delivery, Domino's is top of mind - we benefit from the halo effect. That being said, $3 million is roughly twice our annual PR budget. You've got to get quite a bang for your buck if you're going to make that kind of investment for 30 seconds."

And I thought, what could $3 million buy me at a behemoth like Microsoft? Apparently, quite a bit.

According to Robin Domeniconi, vice president, US Advertising Sales, Publishing and Marketing, the Microsoft Media Network is the fastest growing large advertising network, with 165.5 million total unique visitors, and 62.2 million average daily visitors, as reported by comScore Media Metrix 2010.

"$3 million could buy an advertiser a search campaign that could stretch far longer than a four or five-hour Super Bowl telecast," Domeniconi said, "and oddly enough, Bing itself has seen a brand lift from SEM (search engine marketing) activities."

Microsoft sells its three-screen display campaign, including the PC, phone and video games. In the U.S., the MSN homepage reports over 66 million total unique users, and Microsoft mobile reaches 36 million total unique viewers, and with Microsoft's Xbox alone, advertisers reach new, unique users through the 40 million Xbox units, and over 17 million Xbox LIVE subscribers.

"Spending $3 million with Microsoft gets a Super Bowl advertiser a campaign reaching people at multiple points during the day, regardless of the medium, and a campaign with staying power over weeks, possibly even months. It avoids the clutter of the Super Bowl, as well as guards against the possibility taht consumers might tune out if the game is a blowout."

$3 million to run one thirty-second commercial in the Super Bowl is a lot of money. Yet with CBS selling out the time; nearly 100 million viewers projected to watch the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts by seven points (my prediction); and the Who performing at halftime, maybe Super Bowl advertisers have the right idea.

And then again, maybe there's a better way to spend $100,000 a second.