Competition in Sundays Super Bowl XXXV is likely to be intense, as MasterCard Internationals priceless ads square off against Visa U.S.A.s its everywhere you want to be campaign.
Oh, yes, and the New York Giants will play a football game against the Baltimore Ravens.
As always, many fans will be equally riveted by the advertising showmanship during the commercial breaks, and in the world of financial services, the chief rivalry is usually between Visa, a longstanding sponsor of National Football League games, and any other card company that buys air time. After sitting out the Super Bowl last year, MasterCard is the only other card company on the games advertising gridiron.
Boldly flouting Visas natural advantage at any NFL event, MasterCard is playing up its two 30-second Super Bowl spots, planning to introduce a new priceless ad, and ushering in a sweepstakes that will send the top winner and nine friends on an eight-day vacation to an uninhabited island in the Caribbean.
The new priceless spot is set in an auction house where various intangible read, priceless items (the letter B, the color red, and gravity) are auctioned off, leading to the punch line, For everything else, theres MasterCard.
The appeal of the priceless theme has been well-tested, and the company considers its auction spot exemplary. This one is in the traditional format that everyone has come to know and love, said Elisa Romm, vice president of North American brand building for MasterCard.
A second MasterCard commercial, designed to draw traffic to the companys Web site, will highlight the MasterCard Getaways Sweepstakes, which people can enter online until the end of March. Vacation packages will be given away weekly.
Visa held its own giveaways long before the game a contest last fall for NFL gift cards and merchandise, as well as some trips to the Super Bowl. Visa which normally likes to boast about its NFL and Super Bowl sponsorships has been very hush-hush about the two 30-second ads it will air this year, apart from saying that one will focus on its check card product and the other on general use.
Ms. Romm of MasterCard said her company does not change its marketing strategy when it competes directly with Visa. Since were usually in the same places, we go in expecting that will happen, she said.
American Express Co. and the Discover division of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., which have been occasional Super Bowl advertisers, are on the sidelines this year, but other prominent financial services companies have bought air time during the game, which is on CBS this year. They include E-Trade Group, which is sponsoring the half-time show for the second year in a row, and Electronic Data Systems Corp., which ran a successful branding spot during last years game and plans to follow it up this year.
Though the Super Bowl is historically the grandest and priciest of advertising venues, it has lost a tiny bit of luster in the past two years when critics decried the ad lineups as mediocre and the telecasts as too cluttered. According to Advertising Age, the average price of a 30-second Super Bowl ad this year is about the same as last year, $2.1 million. This was up from $1.6 million in 1999 and $42,000 in 1967, the first year for which the magazine posted figures.
Indeed, MasterCard had to undergo a change of heart to buy its Super Bowl ads this year. When we make our plans, we look for media value and marketing value, Ms. Romm said. Last year, the Super Bowl didnt meet our hurdles.
The perception had been that too many advertisers were competing for the viewers attention, she said. There wasnt a lot of negotiation last year, she added, and a lot of money was being thrown into advertising..
ABC, which televised the game last year, aired spots for 17 Internet companies, including some, such as pets.com and computer.com, that have since closed shop. This year, CBS sold spots to only three Internet companies.
On the brokerage side, Charles Schwab & Co. and the Invesco Funds Group will be represented. In financial technology, EDS hopes to broaden its name recognition no mean feat for a company that specializes in technology outsourcing, processing for automated teller machines, and the like.
EDS said it took a risk advertising on the Super Bowl broadcast last year but that it paid off. Last years spot was a deliberately zany commercial featuring cowboys who herd cats.
Calls to our 1-800 sales line jumped tenfold in the weeks after the commercial, said Donald R. Uzzi, EDS senior vice president of marketing. Awareness of our brand more than doubled. Moments after it aired, visits to eds.com jumped fourfold, to two million hits, and we got eight to 10 million hits in the following weeks.
Mr. Uzzi called the cat-herding ad the gift that kept on giving. The commercial paid for itself.
This year, EDS spent about $6 million, including production costs, for one 60-second spot, which will run during the games first quarter. Its the only event I know where the advertising is as important as the game, Mr. Uzzi said.
David Lubars, president and executive creative director of Fallon Minneapolis, the ad agency responsible for the EDS commercials, said that about 60 ads run during the Super Bowl but only a handful stand out.
A lot of money is wasted if youre the 54 or 55 advertisements that were invisible, Mr. Lubars said. But for those advertisers that strike a chord, the Super Bowl is a bargain.