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Game Is Good for ABC, Advertisers

But could the Super Bowl have been used smarter for program promotion? 2/02/2003 07:00:00 PM Eastern

All things considered, say media executives, both ABC and its ad clients got good results from the Super Bowl, a one-sided affair that managed to hold its audience anyway, probably because the winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers were underdogs going in. But some executives questioned how well ABC used the big game as a promotion platform for the rest of its schedule.

Most Memorable Super Bowl Ads '03
Rank Brand Storyline
Source: Intermedia Advertising Group recall survey Jan. 26-27
1 Pepsi Twist Ozzy and the Osmonds (pictured above)
2 FedEx Castaway spoof
3 Visa Twins Tiki and Ronde Barber at flower shop
4 Hanes Tagless T-shirt w/ Jackie Chan and Michael Jordan
5 Sierra Mist Baboons in zoo
6 H&R Block Willie Nelson
7 Sierra Mist Fire hydrant, hot day on street
8 Cadillac Man in 1950s subway
9 Bud Light Man hides dog on head
10 Bud Light Man with third arm at dinner

Alias
turned in record ratings in the post-game slot, but some wondered why the network didn't use the time period to expose a promising new prospect, like Dragnet. And ABC's new Monday prime time lineup premiered with fourth-place ratings across most of the key categories one night after the game, during which it received some of the network's heaviest promotion time.

"They have to be disappointed with the Monday ratings," says a research executive at a competing network, who had predicted that the lineup would do 2 rating points better than it did.

But ABC Entertainment Executive Vice President Jeff Bader says the network was happy with the performance of two of the shows, Veritas: The Quest
and Miracles, which performed pretty much as the network expected they would—and far better than ABC has performed in those time periods all season.

The Practice
was a disappointment, Bader acknowledged. "We wanted it to do better, but, with Joe Millionaire, it's just a very hard time period on a very hard night for us. Once Monday Night Football
comes off, we've had problems getting anything established there for years." But, he says, the fact that Veritas
drew an 18-49 audience 65% larger than the time-period average and that Miracles
drew the biggest audience to its time period in almost a year are both "great signs. We'll know more in a few weeks."

ABC's airing of the 37th Super Bowl was the second-most-watched game ever, according to Nielsen Media Research. A little more than 137.6 million viewers tuned in to see at least some of the action; average audience throughout the four-hour event was 88.6 million. Only the 1996 contest between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys had a bigger total audience (138.5 million). The household rating was a 40.7 rating/61 share, up 1% from both of the previous two Super Bowls, which averaged a 40.4/61 each.

"Any time you do a 40-rating or better for Super Bowl, that's a great number," said one executive at a competing network. "You really can't ask for better than that. I can't wait till it's our turn again."

Roy Rothstein, senior vice president of New York-based ad buyer Zenith Media, believes advertisers had to be pleased with the ratings. "You can't get more bang for the buck than with the Super Bowl."

But he and others questioned ABC's program-promotion strategy. During the game, the most heavily hyped shows were Alias, which got the post-Super Bowl spot; new late-night entry Jimmy Kimmel Live; Dragnet; and the new Monday-night lineup.

Alias
got its best numbers ever, including more than double its usual 18-49 audience. But Rothstein wonders why ABC didn't put Dragnet
on after the game. It's one of the network's hottest new prospects and could have used the exposure, he said. Instead, the Dragnet
debut was scheduled for last night, a full week after all its Super Bowl hype and up against the debut of NBC's Kingpin, one of the most anticipated new shows of the midseason and tagged by the press as NBC's answer to The Sopranos.

Bader responded: "The ratings for Alias
are not what they should be given the quality of the show." It ought to be performing several rating points higher than it is, he said. But, to get there, it needs exposure, which is what the post-Super Bowl slot gave it. "The key is how many people stick." he said.

As for Kimmel, Bader said the network is thrilled with its start. Last Tuesday, the show was first or second in 25 of the Nielsen metered markets, up from 15 first- or second-place finishes the previous night. "This is an amazing start."

Part of the beauty of the Super Bowl—certainly for commercial broadcasters—is that the ads are anticipated by some viewers almost as much as the game. And in a world of increasing commercial clutter, that can't be said about many programs.

Love him or hate him, Super Bowl fans didn't forget Ozzy Osbourne's turn in a Pepsi Twist commercial in which he dreams that his kids become Donny & Marie Osmond.

According to a survey by the Intermedia Advertising Group, the Pepsi Twist spot had the best "brand recall" of any commercial during the game. The survey measures TV viewers who can recall within 24 hours the brand of the ads they've been exposed to. The top-rated Ozzy ad had a recall index of 177, meaning that it was 77% more effective than the average Super Bowl ad.

A Federal Express ad that spoofed Castaway, the Tom Hanks movie of a few years back, was ranked second-best in terms of recall, according to the IAG survey. Rounding out the top five were ads for Visa, Hanes and Sierra Mist.

But don't confuse recall with likeability.

A separate IAG list ranking viewers' favorite ads puts the Visa ad at No. 15: Viewers got the message, they just didn't like it as much. Same was true for the Hanes ad, which was ranked fourth for recall but 19th on the likeability scale.

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