It's almost game time. Patriots vs. Giants. New York vs. New England. An undefeated season and a claim to the best team in football history hang in the balance.
Yet looking at the towering ad buzz swirling around the Super Bowl, you can't help but feel like the countdown to kickoff is something of a smokescreen. For some, the real countdown anticipates the first break in the game, when the excitement begins in earnest and they finally get to see the hype that all the hype's truly about: the commercials.
Last year, advertisers spent more than $161.8 million plugging their brands on TV, to a tune of $2.39 million for a 30-second spot, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, the research firm's advertising tracker. This year, 30 seconds of fame will run you $2.7 million.
That's the price of admission to the biggest stage in the advertising world. Nielsen reported that 93.1 million Americans tuned in to the Super Bowl last year. Going by the average increase in audience over the last six years Nielsen has reported, this year's audience could approach 95 million.
That nearly one-third of the country's population will be watching is staggering enough. A recent comScore study adds an exclamation point to the advertising opportunity: Twenty-six percent of people who said they planned to watch the game said the ads were their favorite part.
The industries that bought up the most airtime last year were beer, automotive and soft drinks. Sounds like a good match for football fans. By company, the biggest spenders were Budweiser, Coca-Cola and General Motors, according to Nielsen.
Those three industries are again heavily represented in this year's advertising lineup, but there's no shortage of tech companies who've also ponied up to broadcast their message to the masses.
Toshiba bought three spots -- one pre-game, one in-game and one post-game -- making what some might see as a last stand in the format wars.
In addition to its LCD TVs, Toshiba is promoting several movie titles released in the HD DVD format, which, after some disappointing sales and the news that Warner Bros. would exclusively support Blu-Ray, seems to have all the momentum of a sinking ship.
Then there's Amazon, which is not slated for a TV spot of its own, but will see plenty of exposure through its partnership with Pepsi Co.
For this year's digital music giveaway, the soft drink giant has snubbed Apple in favor of Amazon. In Pepsi's "Magnetic Attraction spot," Justin Timberlake will kick off the biggest promotion in the soft drink company's history, offering $1 billion in prizes, including free downloads from the Amazon MP3 store.
Through partnerships with all four major record labels, Amazon has amassed a huge catalog of music free from digital rights management (DRM) usage restrictions. (Of the big four, only EMI has licensed its DRM-free catalog to Apple's iTunes store.) Four years ago, Pepsi ran a similar download giveaway, only with the then-fledgling iTunes as a partner.
Cars.com, a Super Bowl newcomer, is stepping into the fray with a spot promoting "Car Shopping Confidence." The Super Bowl ad is the beginning of a $200 million campaign -- the largest ever for Cars.com -- to rebrand itself as the essential online resource for car buyers.
Among the other tech companies splurging for Super Bowl exposure are Dell, eTrade, Garmin and Careerbuilder.com, according to Advertising Age.
GoDaddy.com does it again
Of course, when it comes to tech companies and the Super Bowl, the list would not be complete without GoDaddy.com. The domain name registry grabbed its place in Super Bowl advertising lore in 2005 with the spot "Wardrobe Malfunction," a play on Janet Jackson's halftime mishap at the previous year's Super Bowl.
The spot featured GoDaddy spokesmodel Nikki Cappelli (played by model Candice Michelle) appearing at the "Broadcast Censorship Hearings," before a crusty old committee prescreening advertisers before the big game.
Alas, one of the spaghetti straps on Cappelli's tank top had come undone. Hilarity ensued as she demonstrated her aerobic routine and dance steps to the indignant codgers presiding over the hearings.
The Standards and Practices group at Fox didn't find it so funny.
GoDaddy had purchased two time slots for the spot, but the network pulled the ad after its first airing. So GoDaddy not only got to show its ad to the world -- pushing the envelope as titillated viewers gasped, "Can they do that?" -- but then it got to scramble up to the moral high ground, crying "censorship!"
Next page: GoDaddy's latest effort to tweak the censors