Everyone is talking about the surge of dot-com companies advertising on the Super Bowl. According to the E-Commerce Times (Jan. 28, 2000), around 20 dot-coms will have ads sometime during the game. These companies include many startups such as OurBeginning, com, LastMinuteTravel.com, Netpliance.com, OnMoney.com, and LifeMinder.com. Along with the startups there are ads by Charles Schwab, E-Trade, and others.

What’s the attraction? Obviously, one reason is the huge audience. But reading the press leads you to believe that the success of Monster.com last year has companies thinking that advertising on the Super Bowl is the way to go. They also fondly remember the Apple Computer ad (but that was way back in 1984).

Picking the winners will be difficult because so much of the dot-com world’s success is not just in the advertising but in the delivery. Remember Victoria Secret (great idea, but lousy execution – the site crashed)? Another reason is that some of the companies just won’t have good products.

But can we think about advertising on the Super Bowl in a systematic way and thereby giving insight into whether this is a good idea, assuming the product and the execution is good? Of course we can by using some foundation knowledge in marketing.

Fist of all, for many of these start-up companies the Super Bowl represents a context for building awareness – period. This is what the Gartner Group implies by saying that the Super Bowl must be the start of an ad campaign, not the central element (but you don’t need to pay the Gartner Group for this knowledge since all you need to know is that its an awareness campaign and obviously it can’t be the end).

Based on the awareness concept, here is what marketing theory tells us.

First, the ad needs to a) make the brand name central, b) repeat the brand name frequently, c) use dual encoding, and d) clearly link the brand name to the category (not what is it, but what of it?).

Since it’s an awareness campaign, it must draw attention away from the game. Research shows that when the game is engaging consumers tend to forget the brand names of the advertised products (so if you’re advertising, hope for a boring game – but make sure your ad is shown early).

The need to present facts but in an interesting manner is a major challenge. The tendency is to focus on being cool, which is great for a reminder or attitude ad, but not necessarily for an awareness ad.

And then we have the problem of interference effects. Unlike in past years when very few dot-coms advertised, now the field is dense. This will create interference in consumer’s minds, and we know that interference causes people to forget or confuse brand names. This will be even greater if your ad is in the same commercial pod as another dot-com ad. You might say that interference will not occur because the dot-com companies are advertising different product/services. But is that the way consumers categorize these products? Maybe they are categorized as dot-com products, independent of the specific product category. Implication – more interference.

Finally we have the old concept of appealing to the target market segment. Are the people who watch the Super Bowl who you really want to target?

When you think about, is advertising on the Super Bowl really such a good idea?

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is founder, CEO, and Positioning Practice Lead at MarketingProfs. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the former director of Mindful USC.