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Outside the Lines: The Other Super Bowl

Host - Bob Ley, ESPN.
Story reported by- Dave Revsine, ESPN.
Guests - Tim Spengler, Initiative Media; Terry Lefton, The Industry Standard; Paul Venables, Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Coordinating producer - Jonathan Ebinger, ESPN.

Bob Ley, Host- The epic images of Super Bowl Sundays are forever etched in the mind's eye.

And not just on the field.

Unidentified male- What's up?

Larry Bird, Former NBA player- First one that misses...

Michael Jordan, Former NBA player- Watches the winner eat lunch, got it.

Ley- Selling everything from computers to sex. In the Super Bowl ad game, the stakes are huge.

Marty Weiss, Advertising Executive- It's an amazing showcase. And everybody is watching it.

Ley- With the key question, do these multi-million-dollar ads really work?

Unidentified male- It's silly. And I eve to believe that a Super Bowl spot makes or breaks a brand.

Ley- Today on Outside The Lines, the game within a game. The other Super Bowl.

Announcer- Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Joining us from ESPN Studios, Bob Ley.

Ley- How do you, in this age of so many media channels and choices, how do you talk to America? Well, there really is only one way, through the Super Bowl.

Tonight, more Americans will likely watch the Giants and the Ravens than viewed last year's Academy Awards and the inauguration of President Bush combined.

Why do people watch the Super Bowl? Well, take the dire pre-game on-field predictions of a stifling and low scoring defense battle along with this week's poll that says nearly 40 percent of viewers plan to watch each and every Super Bowl commercial. It's no wonder that this national parlor game of analyzing and reviewing Super Bowl commercials is at an all-time high in popularity.

Now, Super Sunday is immersed in statistics. And perhaps the best-known pre-game stat for this game is that last year's deluge of 17 separate dot-com Super Bowl advertisers has been winnowed to a smattering of just three dot-coms today.

Still, the game is a media sellout. And at least one advertiser reserved their position the day after last year's game.

There is as much strategy and money, ego, and swagger behind these ads than with the players who provide those interludes of football interrupting the featured show, the commercials.

Dave Revsine examines this high stakes game.

Unidentified male- Just chilling, watching the game.

Unidentified male- I want to dance.

Mike Ditka, NFL coach- Not true.

Chuck McBride, Executive Creative Director, TBWA CHIAT/Day- This is the Academy Awards, Super Bowl, Grammies all tied into one. It is the place where if you're good at your craft you want your work shown and you want it recognized.

Dave Revsine, ESPN correspondent- McBride is hoping he'll get recognition for his work with 150-year-old American icon Levi Strauss. This year, Levi's is advertising on the Super Bowl for the first time with the goal of reviving its sagging market share.

Compared to Levi's, four-year-old is a grizzled Super Bowl veteran. The company is running a spot in the game for the third straight year.

Marty Weiss' advertising agency is creating the Super Bowl ad for HotJobs. It's the first time his firm has had a commercial in the big game.

Weiss- It's show time. We have a tape for you. We have four versions. This is still interim. But it's a lot closer, I'd say it's probably 75 percent there. Let's take a look.

Unidentified male- What we're listening to is a final demo of the music.

Richard Johnson, President and CEO, I actually heard that we had approval on the music. And then just recently I heard we're in the final stages of getting approval on the music. It's pretty late in the game to not have final approval of the music.

Unidentified male- The Mamas and Papas know we're re-mixing it. We just need them to give a final signoff on the remix of that. So we have the music. We have the song.

Revsine- Everyone soon learned it wasn't going to be that simple.

Unidentified male- Just hit rewind.

Revsine- Music wasn't the only concern.

Johnson- Oh, jeez. You've got a ball that's going where it wants to go and being who it wants to be. And I know you like theatrically hitting that fence might be a good theatrical moment. But it sort of takes away from the will of the ball to go where it wants to go.

Weiss- For me, I think that it shows more determination only that there's nothing that's going to get in this ball's way.

Johnson- When is this going to be final? I heard a date before. Now it's a different date. I would like to have this done with as much time before the Super Bowl as possible.

Revsine- With that compressed time frame and plenty of work still to be done, the spot now heads to graphics company Pixel Envy in Los Angeles.

Dave Paprocki, Art Director, Weiss Stagliano Partners- This is basically the hardest shot that we have to achieve.

Revsine- What's remarkable about this spot is that almost all of it is computer generated, making it easier to resolve debates like the one about the ball hitting the fence.

Paprocki- We sent over a tape with the ball doing both things. It's a lot easier than if we had shot all this. It's like, oh, no, we've got to go back and shoot the ball bouncing off the fence or not bouncing off the fence. This made it a lot easier. In one day, we're able to turn around and have two different endings.

We have the final picture. And it looks killer.

Revsine- After seeing the spot again a couple of days later, Richard Johnson agrees the ball should hit the fence.

Johnson- I went and listened to about 20 people in my office. I showed it to them. And it came down to that they just weren't paying attention when the ball went through and didn't hit it, whereas it created some tension.

You've got to know when you're wrong. And I was wrong there. They were right.

Revsine- The music problem wasn't resolved nearly as easily.

Johnson- I think the Mamas and Papas pushed back. They said that we couldn't change the song. And I was just -- actually when I heard that and then I heard the original song...

Johnson- ... I was like, well, I like the original song better.

Weiss- What do you think?

Johnson- I think we're good.

Weiss- That's great.

Johnson- I think we're ready for the game.

Revsine- The spot is a hit in HotJobs' conference room. But will it be a hit in America's living rooms? Unlike the football game, the results of the ad game won't be known until Monday when "USA Today" comes out with its survey of fan reactions to the commercials.

Ken Marcus, Co-Creator, "Gravity Balls" Spot, Weiss Stagliano Partners- I think they have a little hotline where you're supposed to call and say what your favorite spot is. So we're going to be like up all night like dialing, "HotJobs rocked, woo."

Revsine- Two years ago, HotJobs was nearing rock bottom. So Johnson decided to go for broke, spending 43 percent of his company's revenues and mortgaging his own house on one 30-second attempt...

Unidentified male- Bingo.

Revsine- ... to save the company.

Unidentified male- Oh, yeah.

Johnson- The most important moment in this company's history was us gambling to run a Super Bowl ad. It actually defined the company from that moment forward. And all the success that we have, that was the catalyst for our success.

Revsine- But favorable media attention doesn't necessarily translate to corporate success.

Pets.Com Sock Puppet (singing)- What goes up...

Revsine- Just one year after running one of the best received ads on the Super Bowl...

Pets.Com Sock Puppet (singing)- ... must come down.

Revsine- ... is out of business.

Pets.Com Sock Puppet- Please don't go.

Johnson- It just goes to show even hype can't make a bad business model work. It turns out selling 80-pound bags of dog food online...

Pets.Com Sock Puppet- There's enough food here to feed a lion.

Johnson- ... probably doesn't make a lot of sense.

McBride- You know, it's kind of weird. There's a saying about great ads can ruin a bad product.

Revsine- Still, McBride won kudos for his work on Levi's is hoping he'll create a similar buzz this year for its new line of reissued jeans.

McBride- Going into these things, we try to prep the client a lot saying, "All right, so how do you want to play this?" You know, "Do you want to do the ad for the reach and the visibility, or do you want to do the ad because you want to score high on the "USA Today" poll?" And I think to a large degree, the client would be silly not to say both.

Revsine- In total, HotJobs, Levi's, and the other advertisers will pay CBS an estimated $200 million for the rights to show their spots during the Super Bowl and its pre- and post-game shows. The question now is, will the commercials dreamed up here on Madison Avenue resonate on Main Street, USA?

For Outside The Lines, I'm Dave Revsine.

Ley- And we'll be considering that question when we continue with a man who decides where to place commercials, another who reports on this hyper-charged industry, and a creator of Super Bowl commercials.

Ley- Our topic on Super Sunday, Super Bowl commercials.

Tim Spengler makes decisions on where to spend clients' ad budgets. He is the executive vice president of Initiative Media. He joins us this morning from Tampa.

Terry Lefton reports on the industry as the marketing editor of "The Industry Standard." He's also in Tampa this morning.

Paul Venables creates Super Bowl commercials. He is the co-creative director at Goodby Silverstein, makers of the "money out the wazoo" spot last year. He's in Marin County, California.

And, Paul, I guess that's as appropriate a way to introduce you on Super Bowl Sunday as any other. Describe for us the pressure and the tension with everybody watching these spots as the bar gets raised every year to top the year before.

Paul Venables, Goodby Silverstein and Partners- I mean, first of all, people are watching and talking about advertising. The whole country sits around their television and is very excited about the prospect of us pounding away at 30-second messages trying to sell. So it's a pretty glorious moment for those of us in the business, particularly those who create the ads.

It's pressure filled. But it's similar to the pressure you feel every time you go out there to try to create something for a company and a brand, create a personality, do something funny, engaging, provocative, witty.

And the Super Bowl, certainly the stakes are high. But every good creator has a drawer full of scripts that could have been Super Bowl commercials but have been shot down for one reason or the other.

Ley- So what makes a good Super Bowl commercial?

Venables- It's got to be engaging. It's got to grab you. I think the best work generally is funny. If you can make somebody laugh in 30 seconds of film in the context of trying to persuade and sell them, I think you're doing a pretty good job.

That's certainly not the only way to go. But that's got to really be interesting. It can't be the constant sales messages and the similar kind of advertising you see day in and day out. It's got to be outside the box a bit.

Ley- So, Terry Lefton, what do you think of what you've seen so far of the early crop of this year's Super Bowl spots?

Terry Lefton, Marketing Editor, "The Industry Standard"- Nothing has blown me away so far. But I think to the last point, I think, A, this is one of the few places where people don't worry about people not watching commercials anymore, which is interesting because everywhere else, people say, "Well, people don't watch my commercials anymore. I'd better do something else than TV."

And in this venue particularly, because I think people get too caught up in the entertainment and not focused probably on the efficacy of the ads. So sometimes, it's just too entertainment-based, and it doesn't sell a product or a brand.

Ley- Well, Tim, isn't this nirvana for the NFL? In the age of remote controls and 500 channels and Tivos that you can just eliminate these commercials, people want to sit -- 40 percent of them by one survey -- and watch these spots today.

Tim Spengler, Executive Vice President, Initiative Media - Right. That's definitely built into the price. You pay a premium not only for the large audience, but for the attentiveness of that audience. We all know as marketers that that's very powerful. And it's worth paying for it sometimes.

Venables- And, Bob, that's a direct function of the ads being interesting and engaging. People expect that from the Super Bowl. So they're going to kind of pull their couches up close and watch the ads. I think that's a testament to the creative side of things.

Ley- Well, I talked about the bar going up each year. And as it goes up, let's almost on Sunday morning have a reverential moment of silence for the mother of all Super Bowl commercials. Let's roll it. And a look at the Mac commercial -- Macintosh Apple commercial from 1984.

Unidentified male- On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like "1984."

Ley- Terry, why is that so memorable?

Lefton- I think it just summed up everything the Apple brand is in one particular memorable commercial. It also took on IBM as Big Brother.

The folklore is that that only ran once in the Super Bowl. But actually it ran about a month or two afterwards.

Just the imagery is just graphic. And as I said, it's the us against them, little guy against big guy. And it just effectively summed up everything Apple is and ever wants to be in one commercial.

Ley- Paul, is that the Rosetta Stone of commercials? Is that where you set the bar in your mind?

Venables- It's a little bit clichéd to say that I think in some respects. But it's pretty darn good. I mean, when you consider in 1984 what was going on in the ad world for that to break, it felt like a film. It was a mini movie. The production values were amazing.

And like we were just speaking about, it just summed up the brand perfectly. It was relevant. It was creatively interesting. It's pretty hard to beat. I think it deserves its place in the lore.

Ley- And certainly, those commercials -- or those computers are still around 17 years later. But, Tim Spengler, that great stat I mentioned at the top of the show, 17 dot-coms this year, just three this year., which was third in the "USA" poll, is out of business, or fifth in the poll last year, out of business. What companies should be in a Super Bowl?

Spengler- I think it's got to be part of a media mix. And if you're spending 20 -- upwards of 20 percent of your media dollars on one 30-second commercial, that's really risky. That's almost like laying your chips down in Las Vegas on the roulette wheel.

So it needs to be part of your media mix, and maybe somewhere between two and five percent tops. If it's anything more than that, you're really putting a lot of eggs into one basket.

Ley- But we just heard HotJobs two years ago took 46 percent of their revenues. The CEO mortgaged his house.

Spengler- Right. Right. And sometimes swinging for the fences, sometimes you can hit a home run. A lot of times you strike out.

Ley- Is there anybody, Terry, swinging for the fences this year?

Lefton- I don't think so. Reference to dot-com in particular, I think the shake-out in the industry is evidenced in who's left. There was a lot of stupid dot-com business models. The ones that are left are actually better ways to do business.

HotJobs and Monster, it's just a better way to find a job. It takes the emotional component out of it. It gets you to more places faster. Trading online is better than trading by phone. They're real business models. Therefore, they can spend money and expect to get returns. That's why they're the only people left.

Venables- And, Bob, I think it's kind of interesting. I think there are a lot of companies that shouldn't advertise on the Super Bowl, but do year-in and year-out. In my mind, it's -- a brand establishes a personality throughout the year. And a lot of these brands are pounding away with this insipid, banal messages. And then it comes time to the Super Bowl and they get wacky and crazy and creative and nutty. And it's out of character. And I think we see through it.

I think the companies that aren't going to adopt an interesting advertising style throughout the year should stay out of the Super Bowl because we see a glimpse of them trying to be the class clowns. And they can't do it.

Ley- I have to break for a second. But one last quick question, Paul, can you name one of those companies that is stepping out and shouldn't be in there today?

Venables- I haven't seen any that work. But traditionally, I think some of the bigger advertisers like Pepsi and Doritos come up short many years. So they've had some good years in the past. But I think lately they would maybe spend their money wiser -- more wisely if they were quiet this year in the Super Bowl.

Ley- OK, we're going to step aside for just a minute...


Ley- ... let me get back to you in just a second, Terry, with that point. We'll take a break for, what else, a commercial on Super Bowl Sunday. We'll continue with Tim Spengler, Terry Lefton, and Paul Venables as we talk about Super Bowl commercials Outside The Lines.

Ley- We're talking Super Bowl commercials. And we continue with Tim Spengler, Terry Lefton, and Paul Venables.

Terry, let me pick up with you. You wanted to respond to Paul's point about companies that don't belong in the Super Bowl.

Lefton- I think that at some point, these companies have bought themselves into a position where they can't leave. And I'll reference a few companies that I think are that way, FedEx, e-Video (ph), Pepsi. I don't think they can leave.

Pepsi specifically. Coke has the national rights via corporate sponsorship with the NFL. But Pepsi has been on the creative end of this so long that Coke won't buy because they know Pepsi owns the game. Coke owns the intellectual property rights, so they do other things with it.

Ley- Tim, there is a cottage industry that has grown up, this cascading interest in Super Bowl commercials, the pre-Super Bowl buzz. Video news releases getting words out about this, it's almost as if everyone has seen a slice of every commercial before the Super Bowl. And the reviews start before the game.

Spengler- Right. Right. It's a little bit like when you're running a movie trailer. You want to get that buzz out there before the movie. And that can help you. That certainly can help. It's...

Ley- Can it hurt you?

Spengler- ... Can it hurt you? If the commercial -- if it's not a great commercial, then you might get some backlash. But otherwise, for advertising, publicity is usually a good thing.

Ley- Terry, you said you're not blown away by anything that you've seen. I was watching another program. Someone took apart the ad we featured this morning, the HotJobs ad. Can you imagine what's going on in their agency and in their offices this morning with a bad review?

Lefton- Well, I think their holy grail seems to be the "USA Today" ad meter, which a lot of people feel may be statistically flawed. But that's the one they wait for. It's like the review after a play. They're all racing out.

And in a Super Bowl city, you generally get that as early as 4-00 or 5-00 in the morning. So that seems to be the standard by which all is judged. I don't (INAUDIBLE)...

Ley- Is it right for that to be the standard, though?

Lefton- ... It's just the de facto standard. And, by the way, I will cite one commercial that was interesting, the EDS one where they've sort of imitated the running of the bulls at Pamplona. But it turns out to be a bunch of squirrels.

The target audience for that is B2B. It's very small. But I think the creative is at least memorable.

Ley- Well, funny you mentioned that we have last year's commercial. Here's a taste of last year. Before we have the running of the squirrels this year, last year we had the herding of the cats.

Unidentified male- Herding cats. Don't let anybody tell you it's easy.

Unidentified male- Anybody can herd cattle. Holding together 10,000 half-wild short hairs, that's another thing altogether.

Ley- Now, Terry, the conventional criticism of that spot is that it's funny as heck, but what is it saying? At what point does schtik overwhelm the message?

Lefton- Well, the target for that one, as I said, is very small. It's a B2B spot. And they need to get the point across that they are a big brand and they compete with IBMs (ph) by competing with a big brand. The people at EDS told me their brand recognition went way up. Their web traffic went way up. Their business benefited as a result.

So, whereas consumers might not get it, the people that are buying and installing computer systems, computer networking systems, and the kind of things that EDS does, it makes sense to them.

Ley- Paul...

Spengler- (INAUDIBLE) a lot of it...

Ley- ... go ahead, Tim.

Spengler- ... Yeah, I was going to say that's a big part of why a lot of companies buy into the Super Bowl. It's for the trade aspect. It might help your sales force sell the product in.

And a lot of times, if you don't have distribution, you'll never get consumer sales to begin with. So a lot of times, that battle behind the scenes is being fought and sometimes won with the Super Bowl publicity.

Lefton- It's a rite of passage also to have a Super Bowl commercial for a lot of brands. And you have to take that into account as well.

Ley- How much executive ego, Terry? It's great to be out there, a little swagger. I assume we saw a fair amount of it last year.

Lefton- Exactly. And I think also he got into the trade schmooze a little bit. And a Super Bowl commercial and any kind of NFL affiliation will get you tickets, invites to parties, and some kind of presence down here to entertain your people and your clients. And that's important.

Everyone down here thinks they're in the most special place in the world. As a result, you can broker deals and create relationships in business by having tickets and getting people down here and schmoozing them at the Super Bowl.

Ley- Well, Paul, Tim and Terry have talked about the strategy of where to place a spot, which companies belong in spots. But as Terry earlier talked about dumb business models in dot-coms, there's a lot of dumb millions being poured into agencies like yours. Last year, you gladly took it.

Venables- Is this directed at me?

Ley- Yeah.

Venables- Yeah, we spend it a little bit smarter I think than most agencies. I think that's out reputation.

There's a lot of money coming into agencies. That venture capital that poured in from Silicon Valley last year was overwhelming. We were very extremely prudent in taking business.

And every meeting we were in, you look at a business model. And you go, is that going to really be the thing of the future, or is that just another thing that's going to blow up on the Internet?

Ley- But creatively, they turned you loose, didn't they?

Venables- In some respects. It was exciting because they came in with a lot of money, and they knew they had to establish a brand quickly, and they had to do it effectively.

And so they wanted to be loud and noisy and take risks. So they came kind of begging, "Here, spend our money, and do something wild and wacky with it." So yeah, we were salivating at the chance. And I think certain companies that had the right model and had the right message are successful. I think we talked about e-Trade being one of them. And then other companies like -- we didn't have a in our stable fortunately, but you can see that's a tough proposition.

Ley- Tim, one-word answer, going to the game or watching the commercials, which are you doing today?

Spengler- Going to the game.

Ley- Terry?

Lefton- Going to the game, watching the commercials afterwards on, unsolicited plug. You can get them there.

Ley- OK, guys, thanks. Great deal. Enjoy the game in Tampa. And, Paul, thank you very much for getting up early with us on the West Coast.

Venables- No problem.

Ley- Thanks to Tim Spengler and to Terry Lefton and to Paul Venables. And we'll have word of how you can get your feedback to us at in just a moment.

Ley- Next Sunday with football behind us, ESPN's Sunday morning lineup shifts formation. Outside The Lines moves an hour later, 10-30 Eastern, 7-30 Pacific Time each Sunday. So make a note, Outside The Lines beginning next week at 10-30 Eastern, 7-30 Pacific.

And you can experience the interactive Outside The Lines from the homepage. Type in the keyword otlweekly. For the many viewers who request copies of programs, you can find complete transcripts and streaming video of all Sunday morning Outside The Lines programs.

This is also where you can send your e-mail comments, suggestions, and criticisms. And our address-

Ley- Once again, a reminder of our time change. Beginning next Sunday, Outside The Lines an hour later at 10-30 Eastern, 7-30 Pacific Time through the summer and as we get set to head towards the National Football League season.

"SportsCenter," we've got a Super Bowl edition in 30 minutes, a three-hour edition of "NFL Countdown" in 60 minutes. But now, Dick Schaap and "The Sports Reporters" in Tampa.

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