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Fri, Feb 09, 2001 EST
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Dot-Coms Out of Super Bowl This Year
By Skip Wollenberg   Associated Press
NEW YORK — A year after a cast of mostly little-known dot-coms claimed nearly 40 percent of the commercials in TV's priciest program, CBS plans to serve up a more familiar lineup of advertisers on this Sunday's Super Bowl.

Well-known brands like Volkswagen and Levis will be making their Super Bowl debuts beside veterans of the widely anticipated telecast like Anheuser-Busch Inc., Pepsi-Cola Inc., Visa International and FedEx Corp.

Missing are 14 of last year's 17 dot-coms, such as little-known startups like Lifeminders.com, Computer.com, OnMoney.com and OurBeginning.com, who felt the Super Bowl exposure would help make them household names.

Business failures, a drubbing in the stock market and revised objectives — such as making a profit — kept many of them from coming back this year.

"It's a much more traditional list of advertisers," said CBS ad sales boss Joe Abruzzese. "People aren't going to have any trouble figuring out what every advertiser's business is."

The game itself features the New York Giants playing the Baltimore Ravens for National Football League championship.

Despite the flight of the dot-coms and a weaker overall ad market, CBS insiders say the network managed to get an average of $2.3 million for the 60 half-minute ads in the game, up 4.5 percent from the record $2.2 million average ABC claimed a year ago.

That amounts to a staggering $76,667 per second.

Some media buyers said privately that the figures for both years are overstated. But they said CBS did well to maintain a high rate in a tough environment.

The main attraction is the Super Bowl lets advertisers address the biggest TV audience of the year. Upwards of 120 million people tune in to watch at least part of the game. The audience ratings often triple those for top-rated regular series.

In addition, the Super Bowl telecast has become widely known as a showcase for advertising. Apple Computer Inc. made it an event for Madison Avenue with its stunning 1984 ad that introduced the Macintosh computer. Viewers have come to expect entertaining spots as well.

"It's still the No. 1 media event on what is arguably America's most celebrated day," said Tim Spengler, head of national commercial buying at Initiative Media.

But a Super Bowl appearance can also raise expectations too high.

Scott McGraw, head of sports sales for CBS, said some car companies begged off this year, saying their ads couldn't withstand the scrutiny that Super Bowl ads get.

That left the door open for Volkswagen of America, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., to become the game's exclusive car advertiser in its Super Bowl debut.

A popular ad is no guarantee of business success. Take Pets.com Inc., which ran an ad during last year's Super Bowl that showed its sock puppet mascot urging people in a song to stay home with their pets and buy their supplies online.

Sergio Zyman, a one-time top marketer for Coca-Cola Co., who now runs his own consulting firm, said the ad doubled the number of people in his surveys who said they would buy from Pets.com. But the company went out of business in November.

Zyman said the company failed to give prospective customers enough of a price break or other advantage to keep coming back.

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch is the single biggest advertiser on the Super Bowl with four minutes of ads for Budweiser and Bud Light. Its ads feature an everyman named Cedric, a mouse helping a Clydesdale and the music group 'N Sync.

Pepsi-Cola Co. has three Super Bowl minutes and plans to push its flagship brand with the theme "Joy of Pepsi" replacing the 2-year-old "Joy of Cola." Hallie Eisenberg, the young actress who channeled voices in past "Joy" ads,won't appear in the Super Bowl ads.

Levi Strauss & Co., the clothes maker from San Francisco, pitches a new line of jeans with an odd ad in which medics strip the pants from an unconscious donor and rush them via helicopter to a forlorn man elated to get the worn duds.

Electronic Data Systems Corp., the technology consultant from Plano, Texas, is back with a sequel to its "Cat Herders" ad. This time, people are running ahead of a stampede through a sleepy Spanish town — but the animals are squirrels not bulls. EDS says its $6 million investment in producing and running the ad is aimed at suggesting it can help businesses stay ahead of the pack.

MasterCard International returns after skipping last year's Super Bowl and has two new ads in its "Priceless" campaign. Accenture, the new name for the business advisers formerly known as Andersen Consulting, and Cingular Wireless, a new mobile phone venture, make Super Bowl debuts.

Three dot-coms are back from last year. Online broker ETrade Group Inc. is back for the second time while the job sites Monster.com Inc. and Hotjobs.com Inc. are making their third consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

But CBS says dot-coms collectively account for only about 10 percent of the 30 minutes of in-game ads this year.

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