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Not-So-Super Bowl for Ads?

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The Super Bowl is to the the media-fragmentation era what the remaining polar ice is to the global-warming era: the last holdout against seemingly unstoppable climatic change. Though the big game still draws the biggest TV audience–and the biggest advertising payouts–of the year, glacial-sized chunks of it are falling into the sea. This year, reports Advertising Age, big advertisers including Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Microsoft are sitting the game out.

There will still be plenty of those big production-number ads in the game–especially for beverages, snacks, cars and movies–but there have been murmurs for a while that the game is not worth it for many advertisers. The big-ticket ads, which have been a cultural force since Ridley Scott’s “1984” for Apple, get a lot of temporary buzz and press coverage, but some advertisers believe that the spots are better at entertaining people than, well, selling stuff. A Super Bowl ad, goes this line of reasoning, is like a new corporate skyscraper: a monument to the company’s pride and importance but not necessarily money well spent. “The field of potential marketers willing to throw millions at the game seems to have narrowed in recent years,” says Ad Age.

If the move is sensible, it’s also a little sad. TV advertising, for all its embarrassments and excesses, is one of the American industries that is still about pride and showoffery, even sometimes at the expense of efficiency. Like the three-martini lunch, it would be sad to see the wasteful production-number ad go, even if it’s the best dollars-and-sense thing to do.

Then again, how often have you really been entertained by a Super Bowl ad in the past few years? And more important, how often have you been moved to buy something because of one?

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