DALLAS (TheStreet) -- There was no dearth of companies interested in Super Bowl commercials this year, though plenty more should have been.
While its tough to sneak your company's Super Bowl commercials into the game-day lineup -- News Corp.'s (NWS) Fox took down the vacancy sign for its $3 million, 30-second Super Bowl XLV commercial spots way back in October -- there are a handful of companies for whom a Super Bowl ad could change their brand from a modest success to an American staple.
The opportunity was certainly there this year, as companies including Papa John's (PZZA) , Intel (INTC) , Monster (MWW) , Dr Pepper (DPS) and Denny's (DENN) abandoned the Super Bowl space they occupied last year, when commercial time increased 27%, from 82 ads taking up more than 40 minutes in 2001 to 104 ads encompassing nearly 48 minutes, according to ad data firm Kantar Media.
Even after all the ads were sold, an ill-explained late-game pullout by Pizza Hut (YUM) this week opened up a spot that was immediately filled. If any other Super Bowl commercial buyers get cold feet, here are eight companies that should consider making the splurge:
Why should a known social networking company with nearly 200 million users and an estimated $150 million in revenue last year plunk down $3 million for a 30-second Super Bowl ad? Because that $150 million could be a lot more if Biz Stone and Co. played their coverage right.
Consider this year's pregame ad by Groupon, for example. There's a company with revenue more than double that of Twitter, a solid plan for monetizing its content and plans for an IPO in the near future, and they're getting the word out to potential investors that they plan to stick around a while -- and that there's real value in the deal of the day.
As popular as Twitter is, it still just launched its "New Twitter" format within the past year, has a "promoted Tweets" paid advertising feature that's also in its infancy and could feasibly go public within the next two years. It'll take a lot more than 140 characters to convince both potential users and investors that tweets are worth their time, and 2% of annual revenue really isn't much to ask of a firm looking to make a big statement.
Among the latest generation of video game consoles, Nintendo has the two best-selling products, according to NPD Group: the portable DS series (47.4 million sold) and the Wii (more than 34 million). That news, however, is as old as an original copy of Duck Hunt.
Competitors Microsoft (MSFT) and Sony (SNE) crashed Super Mario's 25th birthday party last year by introducing their PlayStation Move and Kinect motion devices and eating the Wii's cake. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Xbox took over the Wii's monthly sales lead after launching a slimmer, less failure-prone version of its Xbox last year and -- with Apple's iPhone nipping at Nintendo's portable gaming market share -- the DS family is getting a 3-D upgrade next month at a $100 premium.
All these factors, and the fact that Nintendo's Wii still had three titles among the Top 10 game sales of last year, should have made a Super Bowl commercial at least an option for powering up the company. As evidenced by New Super Mario Brothers Wii's position atop the Wii's game sales chart, occasionally Nintendo's fans need to be reminded just why they fell in love with the brand in the first place. An ad mixing old favorites such as Mario with announcements for the new Nintendo 3DS and updates to the Zelda and Kid Icarus franchises could restore the flicker to fans' fickle flame.
When you're already paying $32 billion to clean up an ecological and public relations disaster that helped your company to its first losses in 19 years, what's $3 million to $6 million more?
As BP was dealing with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resulting spill last spring and summer, it was also in the unfortunate position of being brand partner (Castrol) and local sponsor of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Its response: Keep a low profile and don't mention the spill, except in nongame-related apology ads.
Months later, a Super Bowl ad would potentially remind people that you're still on the case and -- at the very least -- care about the situation in the Gulf. It could outline the remaining payments in the $20 billion response fund that will be spread out until 2013, highlight progress made during the cleanup and remind the public that the company has changed (and that vilified CEO Tony Hayward is no longer under their employ).
Then again, if conducted with anything but self-flagellating humilty, it could just as easily be considered an ill-timed piece of pompous propaganda that dredges up dark issues just as the Gulf, BP and its share price were starting to recover.
If ever there were an opportunity for a little film such as Winter's Bone to come away with a big Oscar upset, it's this year. While The King's Speech racked up the most nominations, no runaway favorite for Best Picture has emerged.
Despite being the Best Picture nominee with the lowest box office take last year (little more than $7 million, or $13 million less than second-lowest 127 Hours) and having the lowest budget ($2 million, or $1 million less than the cost of a 30-second Super Bowl ad), Winter's Bone is the kind of film the NFL's audience could get behind: A young woman protecting her home and family by force, wayward kin helping out by kicking the hell out of people and meth dealers in the Ozarks looking to take it all away.
It would be a huge gamble for small production companies and distributors such as Roadside Attractions and Anonymous Content -- one that could bankrupt a company of their size if it goes awry -- but given distinct similarities between this film and the bigger-budget True Grit and the huge war chests Sony's Columbia Pictures, Disney's (DIS) Pixar, Viacom's (VIA) Paramount and Time Warner's (TWX) Warner Brothers have available to campaign for their films, a one-off Super Bowl push potentially with grassroots funding through sites such as Kickstarter could be just the late-game surge a small film such as Winter's Bone needs.
This is the No. 1 appliance maker in the world, but it's relatively faceless to a U.S. Super Bowl audience that still considers the lonely Maytag repairman the face of the "white goods" world. That's a shame, as 12.5% of the world's Super Bowl watchers chill their beer in mini-fridges and keg refrigerator/tap units, and Haier has a commanding 6.1% of the world's overall white goods market, according to Euromoniter International. And even that's up 20% from last year.
The Chinese company's revenue is up 22% since 2006 and, though Americans likely know it best for producing some of the inexpensive options found at Home Depot (HD) , Lowe's (LOW) and Sears, its success comes largely from sales to twentysomething urbanites who snap up their wine refrigerators, portable washers and countertop dishwashers.
Haier doesn't need a Super Bowl ad to be huge, but it wouldn't hurt its chances of becoming a household name in American homes.
Motorola Mobility (MMI)
They just spun off from the Motorola (MOT) mothership, their Xoom tablet with sweet Google (GOOG) Honeycomb software just took top honors at the Consumer Electronics Show and their Atrix Android-using, laptop-powering 4G phone took best smartphone honors at the same event. What does this mean to the average American? Not a damned thing. The average NFL fan has been watching Apple (AAPL) iPad ads since Week 1.
Apple, meanwhile, needs an occasion only about as special as a Thursday night rerun of 30 Rock to throw iPad ads at its target demographic. Couple this with the ads Apple's been running to tout its "two is better than one" partnerships with AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) and Motorola's already been sacked for a loss in its Next iPhone/iPad game. Does Motorola really want to convince the American public that it can stand toe-to-toe with Apple or, at the very least, with Samsung, HTC and LG? It'll have to distinguish itself, shrug off the partners and splurge a bit if it wants to make people forget that its U.S. mobile market share has dropped to 17% from nearly 19% in the past three months, according to ComScore, while Gartner says it's global market share slid to 2.1% from 4.5% between 2009 and last year.
While it's great Motorola Mobility is making products that U.S. critics like, a Super Bowl ad may be one of its last chances to make American consumers care.
We know the Super Bowl is usually a pizza, wings and snack-chip affair -- with Pizza Hut, Papa John's and Doritos all vying for a place at the table -- but Burger King's grating morning march commercials that aired during much of the regular season have left the fast food throne open to a worthy heir.
McDonald's (MCD) has the money and Wendy's (WEN) is getting a post-Arby's makeover, but there's a double-cheeseburger-sized opening for an upstart company to sell itself to a hungry public with a saliva-inducing Super Bowl ad. Virginia-based Five Guys has grown from six locations in its home state in 2002 to nearly 700 locations in 40 states and Canada today, with plans to open another 200 locations this year. Consulting firm Technomic ranked Five Guys as the fastest-growing chain in the nation last year, with more than $453 million in sales, 50% year-over-year sales growth and a 52% increase in locations.
The secret? Fresh ingredients in the burgers, pillowcase-sized servings of fries and all the free peanuts customers can eat. All of this has a distinct appeal for the grease-engorged Super Bowl audience, and a Five Guys Super Bowl ad could flip the company from burgeoning burger chain to super-sized contender.
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) (SAM)
Anheuser-Busch Inbev (BUD) has spent $230 million on the Super Bowl in the past 10 years, according to Kantar Media, and hundreds of millions more to take over the NFL's official beer sponsorship from MolsonCoors (TAP) . What did it get them? A 2% drop in market share in 2009, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, and a modest 18% gain in share price in last year.
Boston Beer Company, meanwhile, saw its market share rise 1.5% in the same span and its share price more than double to $92 -- or more than 40% more that A-B InBev's $55 price. For the first three months of last year, Boston Beer's shipments were up 14% and its revenue improved by similar margin as more beer drinkers sat down with a Summer Ale or Octoberfest for the first time. Even while increasing its earnings expectations for this year, the company downplays its success -- noting that its "largest-selling craft beer" still makes up "about nine-tenths of 1% of the U.S. beer market."
Doing a Super Bowl ad would have huge risks for a brand such as Samuel Adams, which produces nearly two dozen different varieties and still considers itself a craft brewer. The company's growth and Brewing Association data showing a 9% growth in craft-brewing volume during a 2.7% downturn in U.S. beer sales, however, means that more Super Bowl viewers are watching horses flatulate in bigger companies' beer ads but drinking a Sam, Sierra Nevada or Yuengling while doing so.
Running a Super Bowl ad may take away some of Boston Beer's craft cred, but a Super Bowl ad blitz by the growing brewer could have a greater benefit: Making craft beer safe for the Super Bowl's masses.
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