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The best bet for Super Bowl XLIII commercials is that their hype won't help, their extravagance will get criticism instead of applause, and the best ads may create the worst buzz. There just doesn't seem to be many ways that advertisers can win in the 2009 Recession Bowl.
Most of the retail industry has chosen to sit on the advertising sidelines of the Super Bowl this year. "The economy" is the easy excuse for that. However, Super Bowl advertising history reveals that retailers didn't pull out of the advertising game in the last big recession, so that can't be the whole story for the 2009 Recession Bowl.
When you look at the list of Super Bowl commercials in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you'll see that they included the usual retail players. Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Sears, and every shape and size of car dealer continued to play the Super Bowl advertising game throughout that recession. This year, though, almost none of the first string retail advertisers are suiting up. This Recession Bowl is different.
The difference this time around is the "buzz" wild card. The very same texty, bloggy, "OMG" wildfire that can turn a 30-second Super Bowl appearance into an iconic moment in retailing history can also change course and burn you where you stand. Which direction the buzz is going to travel this year is the event's second big coin toss.
Everybody watching will know that advertisers have spent $100,000 per second for this year's Super Bowl commercials. In previous years the exorbitantly priced air time was little more than a gee-whiz trivia fact. This year, though, the millions of laid-off workers who used their unemployment checks to buy their store brand chips and salsa at the discount club don't find it endearing. A survey by the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association reveals that 21% of American consumers think advertisers should cut their Super Bowl budget and pass the savings on to their customers.
Discount retailer Target has made frequent Super Bowl commercial appearances over the past decade. How would it look, though, for the discounter and its red-eyed pooch to be included in this year's lineup after joining the list of 2009 retail layoffs with 1,000 job cuts this week?
Super Bowl mainstays like McDonald's, Burger King, and Blockbuster are faring relatively well in the recession so far, but their absence from this year's advertising lineup is conspicuous. Victoria's Secret had the highest ranked Super Bowl commercial last year and hosted the biggest A-list Super Bowl party. This year the sellers of sexy lace and satin are a no show.
The question that can't be answered for Super Bowl XLIII is, "What will people think?"
What people think about the commercials is tantamount to the Super Bowl event itself. According to Nielsen, the brand opinion of last year's Super Bowl advertisers increased an average of 16%. What's going to be the effect on this year's sponsors if the American consumers collectively decide that the $201 million in advertising dollars should have been used more responsibly?
Along with the predicted 100 million viewers, U.S. retailers will likely be watching to see what happens during the Super Bowl XLIII commercial breaks too. Audi, Hyundai, Toyota, Cars.com, Denny's and Teleflora have taken the lead to represent the retail industry in the advertising lineup. The best drama of the event may be watching them and the other sponsors' Hail Mary advertising attempts. The outcome may change the way the Super Bowl advertising game is played for years to come.