Super Bowl Sunday has long been a showcase for all the creativity that advertising firms and their clients can muster. On the one day of the year that Americans actively choose to sit and watch commercials, the ad time that surrounds the gridiron activity is naturally priced at a premium, with reports indicating that CBS is charging up to $4 million for every 30-second spot this year. At that rate, advertisers need to have deep pockets and the conviction that they can make their commercials register with the audience – or a deep need for a Hail Mary play that will get their business noticed.
The pricey bets don’t always pay off, of course. Struggling electronics retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY), for example, has bought Super Bowl ad time for three years running, but its business prospects haven’t improved. This year, it recruited comedian Amy Poehler to star in its ad. The result may or may not be hilarious (Best Buy has only released a teaser clip so far), but it’s tough to see how it will pay off for Best Buy in terms of sales, even as it’s all too clear what the air time will end up costing the company.
Besides Best Buy, this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup includes many of the usual suspects – from Budweiser and Coca-Cola to Doritos and Volkswagen. A handful of newcomers to the Super Bowl spotlight are also making a costly bid for sales or trying to establish their brand in the eyes of consumers. Here, three companies desperately trying to break through during the big game:
1. SodaStream International (NASDAQ: SODA)
This Israeli company with a market cap approaching $1 billion makes home carbonation kits – if it had its way, it would put the likes of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) out of business, or at least ensure that the Atlanta-based beverage giant couldn’t ever afford another Super Bowl ad. Do-it-yourself soda is a popular concept in Europe but the company is still establishing itself in North America. The stock has picked up buy recommendations from big investment banks (Citigroup, Barclays) and its sales are growing rapidly.
Perhaps a Super Bowl ad is just what the company needs to make the next leap forward, especially as part of a campaign dreamed up by Alex Bogusky, a top creative director. And especially one that even before it runs has attracted controversy: CBS rejected the first SodaStream ad – a riff on a classic Pepsi commercial – forcing Bogusky and the company to go back to the drawing board but also ensuring there is plenty of buzz surrounding the ad that will air (said to be a version of an older ad in which every time a SodaStream is used, bottles of a classic soft drink explode).
2. Gildan Activewear (NYSE: GIL)
The Canadian maker of T-shirts and other kinds of branded apparel isn’t a household name in the same way Under Armour is. Nor can it acquire the kind of market cachet of upmarket rival Lululemon. Gildan wants a higher market profile, especially with millennials, and now that it is no longer struggling with lofty cotton prices, it can afford to splurge on high-priced ads. How do you make basic T-shirts exciting enough for the Super Bowl? DeVito/Verdi’s first draft had a man waking up handcuffed and struggling to get his favorite T-shirt off the young woman asleep beside him. That version was a little too edgy for CBS, but the marketing buzz drummed up by that ad won’t hurt the level of audience attention for whatever less suggestive version does end up airing.
3. BlackBerry (NASDAQ: RIMM)
The BlackBerry device manufacturer will run its first-ever Super Bowl ad this year; indeed, the release of the BlackBerry 10 earlier this week looks almost eerily timed to the annual sporting event. RIMM’s struggles have been well documented – the once-iconic BlackBerry has become almost an afterthought in the smartphone era – and archrival Samsung actually ran an ad poking fun at the BlackBerry as old fashioned during the NFC championship game. Now Samsung and BlackBerry will go head-to-head with their SuperBowl ads as well as in the market itself. The new BlackBerry device itself is getting good early reviews for its design, but critics still fault it for having too few apps (or not enough functionality for some crucial apps) and for the fact that it will be spring before the devices are readily available. So even if the ad is a smashing success with viewers, that may not translate into sales for the company, which is betting on this new device to turn its fortunes around.