Tread Lightly
Sarah Theodore
Viewers who tune into the Super Bowl next month may be in for a disappointment — at least the ones who think the game’s usual cutting-edge advertising is as entertaining as the show on the field. It seems last year’s Janet Jackson/ Justin Timberlake halftime show “wardrobe malfunction,” and the flood of viewer complaints it unleashed, is having an impact on advertisers during this year’s broadcast. Big name Super Bowl sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch and PepsiCo still plan to shell out an average of $2.4 million per 30-second ad, but according to a report in The New York Times, they will be toned down and very careful in their messages.
“You won’t see some of the more ‘out there’ creative you saw last year,” a sports marketing executive told the newspaper. “This is going to be a big ‘G for general rating’ Super Bowl.”
Maybe it was viewers’ disdain at seeing too much of Janet, or maybe the seemingly endless tastelessness of reality television finally has pushed them to the limit. Advertising is hardly the most offensive thing on the small screen today, but the companies that advertise are much easier targets than the creators of crass programming. Either way, it seems advertisers have been put on notice that more decorum will be expected this year.
Beer battle gets ugly
But it isn’t only viewers who are exerting control over the airwaves — at least one major company is flexing some muscle, too. Anheuser-Busch last month pressed the four national networks to stop running SABMiller advertising that claimed Miller Lite tastes better than Bud Light, and at least two of them agreed. A-B contended the claims were unsubstantiated and based on flawed testing that biased results in Miller’s favor. It filed a similar complaint over Coors ads that compared the taste of Aspen Edge to Michelob Ultra.
I’d personally rather see A-B hit back with some great marketing of its own than see it defensively pick apart competitors’ advertising. After all, this is one of the most creative companies in the industry, with marketing that has not only sold product but become embedded in American pop-culture. And it overlooks the reason Miller’s ads have been successful — it’s not the taste comparison, but the irreverent humor that has resonated with viewers.
But the networks may have had the last word in this battle. After agreeing to pull the Miller ads, ABC and ESPN reportedly refused to air new A-B advertising that spoofs Miller’s campaign, saying A-B could not parody ads that were no longer running on their networks.
With the way it’s shaping up so far, companies that choose television as their medium might find 2005 marked more by what they do not say on the air than what they do. BI

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