The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game

The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game

by Bernice Kanner, Phil Dusenberry, Ted Sann

The Super Bowl is not just the crowning glory of football. It is the ultimate arena for advertising— the most watched, most anticipated, most expensive, most influential venue for major-league television commercials. It is the place for advertisers to be seen and to showcase their best work to some 800 million viewers around the world and is of intense


The Super Bowl is not just the crowning glory of football. It is the ultimate arena for advertising— the most watched, most anticipated, most expensive, most influential venue for major-league television commercials. It is the place for advertisers to be seen and to showcase their best work to some 800 million viewers around the world and is of intense interest to advertising, marketing, and branding professionals. Many tune in just for the ads, which cost millions to produce and air. From the Bud Bowl and "Whassup?" to "Mean" Joe Greene and Michael Jordan, the commercials have tickled the nation's funny bone and tugged at its heartstrings. The commercial spectacle has grown in magnitude along with the same itself to become an integral part of the annual event. This book is a tour of that advertising evolution—nothing the triumphs and embarrassing flops, lassoing behind-the-scenes stories of ads that are significant—because they broke new ground, inaugurated a major campaign, defined a new movement, set a milestone, or reflected life t the time in a unique way. Illustrated throughout with color stills from the commercials, "The Super Bowl of Advertisingwill bring back memories and remind us of how, for many, the commercials are the best part of the game.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This breezy and entertaining book provides a look at how advertising on America's most watched television program-the Super Bowl-has changed over the past 36 years. Kanner, former "On Madison Avenue" columnist for New York magazine, offers delightful tidbits about the commercials, the products and the executives responsible for choosing the ads. Who would believe that there were some 30,000 unsold seats at the first Super Bowl, in 1967, and 60-second spots sold for less than $100,000? Today, with more than 750 million viewers around the world, advertisers pay more than $2 million for 30-second spots. Presenting anecdotes about the ads along with illustrations, Kanner takes readers through time as she discusses such classic lines as "Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one" and "take it all off" in reference to Noxzema shaving cream. In an amusing piece, "Fossil Fuel," Kanner recounts a popular animated commercial that occurs inside a natural history museum at night: "The bones of a giant tyrannosaurus stir to life, awakened by the intoxicating smell of McDonald's fries. The T-rex sets off to find them. When a dozing guard realizes that Dino wants his dinner, he playfully makes it do tricks, doling out fries as training bait." Particularly insightful is "the dot-com bowl" chapter about the 2000 game. Several Internet companies spent millions of their IPO money on their ads-in vain, as the corporations were out of business by the end of the year. General business readers as well as industry insiders will appreciate the behind-the-scenes look at their world. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Research shows that at least one viewer in 10 tunes into the Super Bowl just for the advertisements - commercials that now cost more than $2 million for a 30-second spot. Using detailed research of the ads, their histories, and those who have created them, marketing expert Bernice Kanner takes readers on a colorful tour of the most costly and creative commercials seen by the biggest TV audiences in the world for more than three decades. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Bloomberg Press
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Bloomberg Series
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Read an Excerpt

The Super Bowl of Advertising

How the commercials won the game
By Bernice Kanner

Bloomberg Press

Copyright © 2004 Bernice Kanner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57660-131-5

Chapter One


ALTHOUGH IT AIRED on both CBS and NBC, neither network has a tape. Neither does the National Football League, nor the victorious Green Bay Packers. New York's Museum of Television and Radio has only the audio track from NBC. But even that recording conveys how right from the beginning on January 15, 1967, the bowl of bowls between the feuding National and American Football Leagues demonstrated a fledgling merchandising cachet. Today the game has grown into an institutional magnet drawing more than 130 million Americans and 750 million viewers worldwide.

Before advertising's creative revolution of the 1970s, before Apple's 1984 big bang, what sponsored the first game already mattered just as much as what happened in it. Seen from an armchair thirty-five years in the future, the commercials seem awkward, amateurish, and interminable (sixty seconds was the norm; today it's fifteen or thirty). Few commercials debuted during the first Super Bowl. Nonetheless, they carried considerable clout. A Winston cigarette commercial on NBC that was still running when action resumed after halftime prompted the refs to whistle the opening kick dead. Packers coach Vince Lombardi fumed while histeam was forced to kick again.

Originally billed as the World Championship game, the Super Bowl was created in 1966 as part of the merger agreement between the National Football League and the then eight-year-old American Football League. Beginning in January 1967, the two league champions would meet each year in a title game. Lamar Hunt, architect of the AFL, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, and one of six committeemen entrusted to orchestrate the merger, was musing about his daughter playing with a "Super Ball" that took crazy bounces when he blurted out the name. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle thought it hokey and presumptuous. "Super Bowl" did not appear on the cover of a program until 1969. It was the media that christened the day of the game as Super Sunday.

Some 63,000 fans watched from Los Angeles's 92,000-seat Memorial Coliseum as the Packers pocketed the first game, 35-10, from the AFL's Chiefs. In an attempt to fill seats, broadcasters considered a local TV blackout, but protests dissuaded them from the plan. It was the only Super Bowl that didn't sell out.

Another 60 million fans watched on TV (dwarfing the prior record for a single sports event, a 1963 Yankees versus Dodgers World Series game). This inaugural audience was split between two networks by a decree by commissioner Rozelle. Eighteen million people caught the game on the radio.

NBC had asked $75,000 for a one-minute commercial; CBS, $85,000. (That's 900 percent less in constant dollars than a spot sells for on the game now.) A few weeks before kickoff, Ford had balked at the price but relented after a minor discount was granted. By January 1, every spot had been snapped up. As the game drew near, CBS and NBC waged intense promotional campaigns. More than ego was on the line: Audience dominance would help lure sponsors for the next season and allow them to push up the rates. On CBS, three of every four of its promotions after January 1 focused on Super Sunday. NBC began running "crawls," the moving text at the bottom of the TV screen, in December. Instead of ending on D-Day, the hoopla seemed to intensify after the game. CBS gloated in a full-page New York Times ad the next day that it had won the network battle. Many advertisers-including Chrysler, RCA, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, McDonald's, and Lorillard-had bought time on both. Their target was the Archie Bunker man, back in the days when men were men.

In promoting its acrylic and rayon slacks that "just fit better naturally," Haggar tried to sell men on physical and mental comfort. McDonald's boasted of selling "hundreds of thousands of burgers every day," then touted its ingredients. And Goodyear played to men's chivalry, offering up a damsel in distress. "The loneliest place in the world is any place a lady has a flat," a man asserted. That's why Goodyear developed the Double Edge, "a tire that could keep on going-that could keep the steering wheel from jerking out of her hands." In a high-energy musical, the "good guys" at Chrysler urged viewers to "nail down the deal of the century on a Dodge Coronet 440" or follow their hearts to the first annual Plymouth Dealers Win-You-Over-Sale. American Airlines touted smooth flying via a new "special computer programmed for wind and temperature" on every plane. Winston and Salem cigarettes were there. Schaefer continued its five-year-old positioning as "the one beer to have."

Ford built a massive Masonite duplicate of Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year award in the Mojave Desert. Cameras in helicopters followed a real cougar perched atop a new Mercury as it moved onto the huge medallion, while twenty other cars encircled it.

Eastern Airlines's "The Wings of Man" celebrated the miracle of flight and showed happy people reuniting. American Tobacco's Tareyton team vowed they'd "rather fight than switch." Liggett & Myers plugged Lark's gas-trap filter. And President Johnson reminded Americans of their patriotic duty to buy U.S. Savings Bonds to support troops in Vietnam.

Super Bowl II (1968) seemed like a rerun with the Packers, this time beating the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. A technical glitch caused almost 80 percent of television sets to go dark for a few minutes in the first half. A Newport cigarette commercial that aired then was rerun later in the game, giving Lorillard a valuable "make-good."

Many original advertisers returned. Metropolitan Life and Winston ran catchy jingles: "We're helping more than forty million people who know the future is now" and "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." Salem was back to "refresh your taste." United Airlines told business fliers to bring their wives.

TWA said it with music-Jimmy Webb's "Up, Up and Away." Chrysler Plymouth borrowed Petula Clark's recording of "The Beat Goes On," to synchronize with headlights flashing and horns tooting. And Goodyear doctored the Nancy Sinatra hit, "These Boots Are Made for Walking," to say its tires are "made for rolling, because Goodyear built them to."

IN 1969, THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTERS increased its scrutiny of violence in TV programming, PBS launched Sesame Street, and Neil Armstrong took mankind's first step on the moon. But before all that, on January 12, 1969, in Super Bowl III, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath made good on his promise-no, guarantee-to defeat the favored Baltimore Colts in Miami's Orange Bowl stadium. After "Broadway Joe's" triumph, he became a folk hero, the Super Bowl became an established monument, and the AFL became a contender.

Weeks before, advertisers had bought eighteen minutes (at $135,000 each) in the game along with four minutes (at $50,000 each) in the pregame. MetLife bought four in the postgame show at $65,000 each. The normal prime-time tariff then was $46,000 for 60 seconds. With antismoking sentiment erupting, Lorillard bailed, but RJR quickly grabbed its two minutes.

Some ads were literally cartoons. Gillette's new adjustable Techmatic razor "for light, average, and heavy beards" appeared in an animation. A Road Runner cartoon character guided the tour of "what Plymouth's up to now."

Others were unintentionally cartoonish. Men waxed jubilant at discovering sprigs of mint in their Rapid Shave Menthol.

During the 1970s, while the game gained popularity, its advertising remained largely pedestrian. Yet there were flashes of brilliance and daring. During Super Bowl VI on January 16, 1972, while the Dallas Cowboys stampeded over the Miami Dolphins in New Orleans, Coca-Cola was making ad history with music.

Viewers that day saw a veritable United Nations of fresh-faced young people assembled on a hillside singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony ... I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company." A helicopter-borne camera panned back to reveal a throng of 400. "I'd like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love; Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves."

A year earlier, on January 18, 1971, Pan Am flight 12, carrying young McCann-Erickson copywriter and songwriter Bill Backer, had made an unexpected overnight stopover in Ireland due to fog. Backer's ire softened as he watched passengers come together over Cokes. The soda was a social catalyst. Lines of a song floated into his head, and he jotted them on a paper napkin. The next day, in London, he and writer-musicians Billy Davis and Roger Cook crafted a storyboard for one of the most beloved commercials of all time.

Several months later, on a hillside near Rome, young people clad in their national costumes stood in an inverted pyramid, clutching Cokes. Directed in sign language, they sang (okay, lip-synched) a moving tribute to peace, love, and world unity. The 60-second spot cost a then-hefty $225,000 to produce.

"The bottlers felt it didn't sell hard enough," recalls Backer, who then produced a second commercial that embellished the singing. "That's the song I sing ... What the world wants today ... A song of peace that echoes on ... And never goes away."

Many bottlers still had reservations, and panned it as treacly. But when the new version aired experimentally in July, the public lapped it up. Foreign bottlers now clamored for versions in their own languages. South Africa asked for one without blacks. (Coke refused.)

Two Top 40 versions, by the New Seekers and the Hillside Singers, sold more than a million copies by 1972. The "Hilltop" campaign ran for six years. (For SB 1990, Coke hired the Pinkerton Agency to find some of the original performers plus their children for a nostalgic sequel on that same Italian hillside.)

As "Hilltop" wound down, Coke was readying another blockbuster: "Mean Joe Greene." The wounded, dispirited Pittsburgh Steeler limps toward the locker room as a shy young fan tries to buck up his idol. Finally, the dejected lad presses his sixteen-ounce Coke on the glowering defensive lineman. Mean Joe relents and chugs it while lyrics erupt: "A Coke and a smile makes me feel good, makes me feel nice." As the crestfallen boy turns to leave, Greene, humanity restored, tosses him his jersey.

Bill Van Loan, then Coke vice president, said the ads featured "product as hero, causing the smile. While Pepsi invited people to join some mythical group, Coke aimed to own the world of smiling Americans." The shoot (in a high school stadium tunnel to emphasize Greene's bulk) took three days, in part because young Tommy Oken kept flubbing his lines, so awed was he by Greene. Copywriter Penny Hawkey wanted an emotional spot, not more happy jingles and well-scrubbed folks working up a thirst. "People responded to its seeming realism and honesty," she said, "and Coke never over-promised." It was merely a pause that refreshes, not an elixir that would change the world.

Coke wasn't alone in harnessing the power of music. Noxzema used music and a heaping dollop of sex to sell Medicated Instant Shave Cream with Swedish model Gunilla Knutson bumping and grinding to David Rose's hit instrumental, "The Stripper," teasing men to "Take it off, take it all off" as they shaved. One spot in 1972 starred Joe Namath still basking in his Super Bowl win when costar Farrah Fawcett meets him in the bathroom. "Ladies, want to see Joe Namath get creamed?" she asks cheekily before lathering him up.

In these still-early days, before Anheuser-Busch had a lock on the game, Miller was buying airtime on every major sport event, leaving Anheuser-Busch to claw for the crumbs. Careful to plug Lite's robust taste and avoid even a whiff of wimpiness, a team at McCann fashioned the "Everything you always wanted in a beer ... and less" campaign starring beefy, retired jocks bantering in neighborhood bars over whether it "tastes great" or is "less filling." The first commercial featured Super Bowl hero New York Jet Matt Snell; others used writers Mickey Spillane and Frank Deford, Rodney Dangerfield, football's Deacon Jones and John Madden, baseball's Billy Martin, and basketball's Red Auerbach. "We choose guys you'd love to have a beer with," said Bob Lenz, who conceived the campaign. "We didn't want actors, or superstars, but macho, beery guys who could make fun of themselves."

McDonald's status as the world's most recognized brand in 1996 was at least partly the result of its high-touch ads and its broad appeal. After its spot ran on both networks in Super Bowl III, its store volume jumped 22 percent and McDonald's became a believer.

Chain founder Ray Kroc used to say that "we're not in the hamburger business; we're in show business." From the start, McDonald's ads aimed for the heart. In addition to the expected "bite and smile" shots, most ads put likable characters in seemingly honest and realistic situations, speaking natural dialogue and filmed in unexpected ways such as extreme close-ups or slow motion. Music is distinctive and mood-enhancing. And there's a little magic moment that surprises you or chokes you up. In 1970, McDonald's was preparing a spot about little islands where you can "get up and get away, to McDonald's." At the last moment they discovered that the island theme was being used elsewhere. So Keith Reinhard, chief of McDonald's ad agency, moved to plan B, playing up the emotional rewards of a McDonald's experience. experience. As an energetic crew cleaned, they sang to music by Barry Manilow.

Then, in 1974, came the tongue twister celebrating the six-year-old Big Mac: Two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seedbun. After an Alabama franchisee ran a promotion awarding free Big Macs to passersby who recited it correctly within four seconds, jingle mania spread. (Those who flubbed it landed in a bloopers commercial.) In rapid succession came "We Do It All for You"; "You, You're the One"; and "Nobody Can Do It Like McDonald's Can"; plus a revival of "You Deserve a Break Today" in 1981.

IN 1974, WHEN ONLY SIX MILLION people carried its green card, American Express suggested empowerment with its now famous "Do you know me?" campaign. High achievers whose names were often better known than their faces would recount an exploit ("I was the first man to climb Mount Everest"), state a problem ("I still forget to change my dollars into dinars before going to Nepal"), then explain why they carry the card ("It's recognized around the world"). At the end, an American Express Card appeared, bearing the name of the famous person.

William Miller, who ran for vice president in 1964 yet still had trouble charging a meal, exclaimed, "Why, with this they treat me as though I'd won." In 1975, voice impressionist Mel Blanc (a/k/a Bugs Bunny) moaned, "They don't care if I'm Daffy Duck.


Excerpted from The Super Bowl of Advertising by Bernice Kanner Copyright © 2004 by Bernice Kanner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bernice Kanner is a marketing expert with Bloomberg L.P., a columnist for "ScreamingMedia", and a regular contributor to She has appeared as a marketing expert on "CBS Morning News," ABC, and ESPN, and from 1981 through 1994 she wrote the award-winning "On Madison Avenue" column appearing in "New York Magazine."

Phil Dusenberry is chairman emeritus of BBDO North America, the ad agency he transformed into a creative powerhouse. He joined BBDO as a copywriter in 1962 and rose through the ranks to become chairman while winning numerous industry awards. Since retiring in 2002, he conducts creative seminars and lectures around the world.

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