Despite third-string stock prices and some out-of-bounds accounting, corporate America is still looking to score with pricey Super Bowl ads.

The annual NFL title match has long been the stage for a variety of businesses that want to make their best sales pitch to a large-scale television audience. And this year is no different, says Jim Andrews, vice president of IEG, a leading sponsorship analysis firm. Companies keep coming back year after year to advertise, capitalizing on the Super Bowl's powerful capability to create a buzz about their products, Andrews says.

While the game itself may not always spark enthusiasm among pigskin fans, the ads at least keep them from heading to the kitchen for another cold one. Andrews discusses the potential risks and the perceived benefits of these commercials and what it takes to captivate an audience on Super Bowl Sunday.


TheStreet.com: What sort of impact has the economic slowdown had on the sponsorship and advertising industries?

Andrews: Well, the effects have been widespread throughout almost all industries. But it essentially depresses the marketplace because as the companies that sponsor events look to tighten their belts across the board, certainly sponsorships are affected, like everything else. It depends to what degree things are cut back. It depends on the companies.

Overall, we've done a couple of surveys, and the main outcome is that companies told us they were not looking to increase their spending on sponsorships in 2002 over what they spent in 2001. They were going to hold steady. I think that's the general outcome there.

TheStreet.com: More specifically, what effect would that have on Super Bowl advertising this year, considering the hefty price tag that comes with a televised commercial during the game ?

Andrews: I'm going to make a distinction here between advertisers and sponsors. We tend to use the term sponsors for those who go on site at the Super Bowl. Obviously the advertising marketplace has been depressed, too. The cost per 30-second spot has dropped. I know they still had some inventory left as of a few days ago; they had not sold out all of the spots.

TheStreet.com: Which companies make up this year's lineup? Pepsi ( PEP)? Budweiser ( BUD)?

Andrews: Right. They're going to be there. I know Monster.com is back this year, as well as HotJobs ( HOTJ). We've still got a few dot-coms that are hanging on, not quite as many as we used to.

TheStreet.com: Has the economic turmoil scared away any of the perennial advertisers?

Andrews: I think most of them are going to be there. There are only a handful of companies that have been there year after year. Off the top of my head, I know Dell Computer ( DELL) is going to be there, but this may be a first for them.

TheStreet.com: What has changed with respect to the types of companies airing spots during the game?

Andrews: A lot of movie studios this year, which has been an increasing trend over the course of the last few years.

TheStreet.com: Do you see a new trend developing?

Andrews: That's probably been the newest one. There's definitely a mix of business-to-business and consumer advertisers. In the last few years, we've definitely seen -- and this is partly due to the dot-com frenzy -- a lot of smaller companies taking a risk, saying, "We're going to blow our entire ad budget on that one big hit." Sometimes it works, but most of the time, it doesn't. It can be a big splash for that type of company. You get good public relations out of it, and folks like yourself writing about that company, some free publicity. But the movie studios are definitely buying an increasing number of spots.

TheStreet.com: What metrics are used to project potential revenue and track the financial success of these spots?

Andrews: That's an interesting question. The answer is, probably not as many as people might think. It is difficult to ever know exactly whether a particular 30-second spot down the road ever caused a person to take your product off the shelf and put it in a grocery cart or make a business purchase. But I think people do look at it, particularly the Super Bowl, as there is this public relations value there. They know these ads are going to be talked about the next day.

TheStreet.com: Like chatter heard around the office water cooler?

Andrews: Exactly. People are having parties, and they know to look at the ads now. People see that as a multiplier. They know these ads are more expensive, but people don't come into work on any given other Monday and say, "Boy, did you see that ad that ran during Malcolm in the Middle last night?" So you're paying for that extra spin or buzz, if you will.

TheStreet.com: How do ratings play into that?

Andrews: That's one of the things that the advertisers will be looking at: what kind of ratings the game got. I think that's one of the concerns people might have about this game. Everybody's hoping the point spread is not right and it's not going to be a blowout, especially for those advertisers that only have ads in the second half. Beyond a simple measurement of how many people the ad was exposed to, some of them may do tracking studies after the ads run to find out whether people like them or remember them, whether the ad had some impact on their propensity to actually purchase the products.

TheStreet.com: If you had to come up with a blueprint for a successful spot in terms of reaching a wide audience and generating revenue, what would be that strategy there?

Andrews: I think one of the most fundamental things is that it has to be a new spot if you want it to have the desired impact. The ones that don't do very well are the ones where the company just buys the time and sticks in the ad that they've been running for the last six months. Just being there is not going to make the ad newsworthy. You want to create a buzz and have people talking about the ad the next day, and they're not going to do it if it's an ad they've already seen. Most of the ads that you'll see on Sunday will be new.

Also, in order to recoup some of the investment in producing a new TV spot is that you have a spot that can run again. Unless you are a Coke ( KO) or a Pepsi, you probably don't have the resources to create a spot for the Super Bowl and never use it again. You want to make sure that the creative execution is something that you can pick up and put in prime-time rotation, so that it has some legs to it -- you know, for people who didn't see it during the Super Bowl but maybe will be looking for it after they've heard about it. It keeps it going. Just running it once and having it disappear is poor planning. I think those are the two main things.

TheStreet.com: Much has been made of the new Pepsi ads, which have Britney Spears as their spokesperson. Can you talk about that as a marketing strategy?

Andrews: You're really tapping into her star power and borrowing that. With a well-known name like Pepsi, you don't have to establish a reputation, but you do have to reinforce. And Pepsi's thing has always been "We're the younger, hipper soft drink" as opposed to their main rival. They'll probably have somebody else next year, the next sensation.

TheStreet.com: So these TV spots essentially rely on people going to work the following day saying, "Hey, did you catch that?" -- especially if the game is a blowout.

Andrews: Right. The commercials may be the most interesting part of the game.

TheStreet.com: Who do you like in the game?

Andrews: I would love to see the Patriots win, but I don't think it's going to happen. I'm a Steelers fan.

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