It was a sign of how much the global economy has deteriorated when one of the prime spots in last Sunday’s Super Bowl ad showcase in the US was taken by Cash4gold, an online service offering money in exchange for cast-off metals.
The Super Bowl is the highest-profile annual media advertising event for American companies and is generally dominated by brands such as General Motors and FedEx, which did not appear this year. A small, internet-based business such as Cash4Gold popping up at such an elite advertising event suggests that broadcaster NBC has been forced to look outside its usual large brand partners as they suffer significant cutbacks in their marketing spending.
Given the prices charged by NBC for an appearance during the Super Bowl – as much as $3m per spot – will the broadcaster be able to justify its reputation as the most-important media spending event in the calendar if its biggest advertisers are rubbing shoulders with less-distinguished brands such as Cash4Gold?
While NBC was able to shift all its ad spots this year, raking in a record $206m (£144m), as the Pittsburgh Steelers triumphed over the Arizona Cardinals, it sold the last two spaces just hours before the event. It reportedly dropped its price for some slots to ensure the schedule was full.
Cash4Gold chief executive Jeff Aronson says, given the economic climate, a Super Bowl ad was a “perfect opportunity” for his brand. Cash4Gold’s move, from its usual basic “infomercial” style ads on late-night TV to a primetime Super Bowl slot, comes as consumers sell their valuables to make ends meet. Aronson claims that his company doubled its number of transactions last year to 500,000.
Cash4Gold was not the only first-time Super Bowl advertiser appearing on American TV screens this year. After both General Motors and FedEx decided not to appear due to econ-omic concerns, the roster was filled with an influx of lesser-known brands, including restaurant chain Denny’s and flower service Interflora.
Kip Knight, former vice-president of marketing at eBay and previously a PepsiCo marketer, says that this year’s Super Bowl ads varied greatly in quality, calling them a “mixed bag”. He was not especially impressed by the Cash4Gold ad, which starred notoriously cash-strapped American celebrities MC Hammer and Ed McMahon with the strapline “Cold Hard C$sh” and a website address.
A mixed bag
Knight says that some of the ads from major companies did manage to raise the bar. “Budweiser did a great job of connecting with consumers through humour,” he says of the brand’s multiple ads to promote its core Budweiser and Bud Light products.
But he thinks that PepsiCo’s ads fell short of the brand’s usual creative standards, despite a spot combining singer Bob Dylan with rapper Will.I.Am to show Pepsi’s enduring appeal throughout the generations. Knight says: “I didn’t think the PepsiCo spots were worthy of what it must have spent on them. The Pepsi ‘Generations’ spot is confusing…who is it really talking to?”Next year, after a full 12 months of recession in the US, it is likely that brands such as Pepsi will find themselves sharing media space with even more non-household names at the Super Bowl. Soft drinks and beer brands may appear next to ads from price comparison websites or scrap-yards. Mega-brands used to being part of an elite Super Bowl group may need to take inspiration from the nickname of this year’s winners and “steel” themselves for a less predictable and more diverse range of companies bidding for a piece of advertising history in 2010.