YOU CAN’T REALLY blame the studios for getting swept up in the Super Bowl advertising derby.These are trying times for marketers pitching products to young American men, who now spend far more time playing videogames and downloading music, sports scores and porn than watching primetime TV. And the ratings were excellent, with 90.7 million viewers — the biggest Super Bowl audience in 10 years. But here’s some advice for next year: Save your money. The Super Bowl remains the ideal showcase for a certain kind of TV spot — a slick, cartoonish pitch with minimal storyline, splashy colors and a familiar product. Partying chimps or a hot babe getting body-slammed by an overzealous touch football player tend to play pretty well, too (never mind that the latter sequence was actually lifted from a movie, “The Wedding Crashers”). But the Super Bowl is not the ideal ad platform for CGI spectacles like “Mission: Impossible 3,” “Poseidon” or the next installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” These films just don’t lend themselves to an advertising landscape awash in beer, babes and chimps. Nor is it an ideal showcase for a gloomy international thriller with a cryptic storyline and a beautiful actress all but unrecognizable beneath a shaven head (“V for Vendetta,” anyone?). Part of the problem is the buzzsaw editing style required to strip a 90-minute storyline down to 30 seconds of explosive effects, movie-star face time and simplistic visual symbolism. Given the Roman Circus-like atmosphere of your average Super Bowl party, a 30-second trailer zips by too quickly to register much of an impression. THE SUPER BOWL brouhaha is so grotesquely overblown at this point, even the most anticipated Hollywood tentpole is bound to come across as a bit of a letdown. The studios, after all, are bit players in the game, buying 30 seconds here and 30 seconds there. Anheuser Busch, by comparison, spent $25 million for 10 spots. Even Careerbuilder.com, whoever that is, had a bigger presence on the Super Bowl than “M:I 3″ — two spots with partying chimps. Factor in all the house ads for “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” and it’s all but impossible to stand out from the crowd. Madison Avenue remains smitten with the big game in part for the echo effect. Ads are rescreened on Monday’s morning shows, ranked in USA Today and analyzed by critics in national newspapers. But all that media attention tends to focus on consumer products and packaged goods, not movies. Last year, Broadcasting & Cable described an experiment by the ad agency Starcom, which fed Nielsen ratings into a computer to see if it could reach more adults 18-49 by spending $2.3 million on counterprogramming against the Super Bowl. The results: One could reach almost twice as many adults in that age group by buying time on TV shows that aired against the Super Bowl. Just to be clear, I’ve performed no such experiment. And I haven’t seen any of the research conducted before and after the game showing the fluctuations in unaided awareness. For all I know, unaided awareness for “V for Vendetta” is now sky high. But I doubt it. IT’S WORTH REMEMBERING that film spots on the Super Bowl don’t serve the same purpose as an ad for Bud Light or Burger King. Studios aren’t plugging a brand that’s always available everywhere. They’re not trying to move their market share an inch by bashing the competition. They’re trying to get people to the theater on opening night — even if opening night is still six months away. So what’s a more strategic investment of $2.5 million? Hard to say, but the answer may stem from the wild proliferation of communication channels advertised in the game. There were almost as many Super Bowl ads this year for mobile phone services as for movies. A Super Bowl ad is the epitome of the old marketing mindset in which the TV screen is considered the most efficient conduit into the national psyche. That’s just not true anymore. A trailer for “M:I 3″ is sure to look even less impressive on a mobile phone than on the Super Bowl. But one thing’s for sure: It’s much less expensive.
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