Local ad agencies are on the sidelines for Super Bowl XLV

By Brian Steinberg
Globe Correspondent / February 1, 2011

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There is no Super Bowl joy in Boston this year — not for the Patriots, and not for Boston’s advertising agencies, which were shut out of the action for the high-profile, high-cost ads featured during the NFL championship game.

Although in years past, Boston’s big agencies have created some of the more memorable Super Bowl commercials, which millions of TV viewers across the nation tune in to see each year, it appears that there will be no locally produced national spots in Super Bowl XLV. The Fox TV network, which is broadcasting this year’s game, has been seeking from $2.8 million to $3 million for 30 seconds of ad time, but Boston’s ad community will be sitting on the sidelines — or living vicariously through the efforts of others.

There is some local creative work available for a select audience — the military. Boston’s Mullen agency has created a public service announcement aimed at getting military family members to vote. The ad, produced for the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, will only be seen, however, during a broadcast of the game over the American Forces Network.

That is not to say there is no Super Bowl flavor to local ads. A contest sponsored by Food Should Taste Good, a maker of healthy snacks based in Needham Heights, has participants uploading videos of themselves doing touchdown dances to win $10,000. The contest ends Feb. 7, one day after the big game is broadcast.

The small snack company does not have rights to use the phrase “Super Bowl,’’ but “we know that there are a lot of chips purchased during the Super Bowl and during a lot of football playoffs,’’ said Jamie Borteck, the company’s vice president of marketing. “I think people understand the connection.’’

Boston ad executives said they will not get Super Bowl action every year. “There are only so many spots in the game,’’ said Mike Sheehan, chief executive of Boston agency Hill Holliday.

For an agency to become an annual Super Bowl player, it needs to have one of the game’s perennial sponsors as a client; think Anheuser-Busch InBev or PepsiCo. When it comes to beer and beverages, “those types of accounts don’t often settle in Boston, and when they do, they don’t tend to stay too long,’’ said Jim Garaventi, creative director at Newburyport agency Mechanica.

But when an agency has a client that is ready to spend big and make a big statement, Sheehan said, there’s a genuine thrill to producing a Super Bowl ad. Hill Holliday’s 2002 ad for Budweiser featured the stately Clydesdale horses bowing toward Manhattan just months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; the ad gained renown for bringing some viewers to tears.

A Super Bowl spot that scores with viewers is a valued calling card — agencies hope the effort brings in new business, stokes reputations, and garners rewards. TBWA\Chiat\Day, an ad agency that works for Apple, is still recognized for its 1984 Super Bowl ad, which played off the George Orwell book “1984’’ and introduced the Macintosh to the masses.

What makes it tougher is the small number of clients willing to spend Super Bowl dollars year after year. Monster, the online-jobs site based in Maynard, entered a commercial sporting a fiddling beaver in last year’s Super Bowl. Matthew Henson, company spokesman, said this year an ad in the game “doesn’t fit with our current marketing strategy. The Super Bowl has always delivered great brand awareness for us, but we have our sights set on different objectives.’’

Boston has made its fair share of contributions to past Super Bowls — some celebrated, others not. In 1999, Mullen plucked heartstrings with an ad for Monster, featuring little kids speaking the corporate argot of their parents. “When I grow up,’’ during the ad, the kids say they want to “be replaced on a whim’’ or “forced into early retirement.’’

Boston’s Arnold Worldwide helped craft a pitch for in 2009, during the recession, in which rapper MC Hammer and former talk-show sidekick Ed McMahon talked about the appeal of selling gold jewelry and baubles for quick money. Gillette ran an abstract ad in 2006 for its new five-blade Fusion razor showing scientists meeting in a secret enclave to create the new toiletry out of two different canisters of light.

The lack of Super Bowl business is becoming less critical, as such broad-reach, multimillion-viewer telecasts lose ground to online venues like social networking sites, including Facebook or Twitter; websites devoted to the event; and digital outreach such as e-mail or smartphone apps. “The Super Bowl in its heyday, it used to be an absolute focus point,“ said Andrew Graff, chief executive of Allen & Gerritsen, an agency based in Watertown.

Now, Graff suggested, advertisers can reach fans even without being in the game.

One hallmark of the big game is still a must: great ad work that makes consumers take pause. “Doing something fresh that has a powerful impact on your client’s business is the ultimate win for agencies,’’ said Mechanica’s Garaventi. “And today, you don’t need the Super Bowl to do that.’’


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