- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII may be a battle between conference champions, but the game´s commercial breaks could turn into a showdown between two of the country’s most iconic brands.

Rival cola makers PepsiCo and Coca-Cola Co. have together purchased nearly 10 minutes of ad time during Sunday’s game, and both plan to use the widely watched spectacle to launch new branding and marketing initiatives.

“You have the game between the [Arizona] Cardinals and the [Pittsburgh] Steelers and that battle, and then you have the battle of the colas,” said Bob Horowitz, president of Juma Entertainment and producer of the annual “Super Bowl’s Best Commercials” special.

Pepsi officials said the company will have as many as 10 commercials ranging in length from 15 seconds to one minute, including a 3-D advertisement for its SoBe Lifewater beverages, produced in conjunction with Dreamworks. The company also plans commercials for its Pepsi Max, Doritos, Cheetos and Gatorade brands.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, will have three commercials, including an updated version of its famous 1980 ad with the Steelers’ “Mean” Joe Greene, this time with current Steelers’ safety Troy Polamalu.

Both Pepsi and Coca-Cola are ramping up new marketing campaigns, even as many companies have been pulling back on advertising spending owing to the faltering economy. Pepsi first unveiled a campaign dubbed “Refresh Everything” in December, while Coca-Cola is in the early stages of launching a new slogan, “Open Happiness.”

“There’s a lot going on between those two,” said Jim Gregory, CEO of Corebrand, a New York-based branding consultant. “That’s a sign of healthy marketing. in my mind, so there’s a lot positive about this. They’re battling back and forth, trying to dominate one another, trying to get that edge. It’s brand dynamics at its best.”

The companies declined to reveal the value of their Super Bowl ad investment, but several industry analysts said the average 30-second commercial was priced at a record $3 million, or about $100,000 per second.

“We can’t afford not to advertise in the Super Bowl,” said Pepsi spokeswoman Kristine Hinck. “When you consider the millions of people who are watching it, and all of the discussion that goes on about the spots, the value is pretty good. It’s one of the few opportunities we have to reach a multigenerational audience that is as focused on the spots as they are the game.”

Indeed, the Super Bowl is routinely the most-watched television program of the year. Last year’s game set a record with 97 million viewers tuning in at some point during the game, and industry analysts said both Coca-Cola and Pepsi scored high in the amount of buzz tied to their commercials. TNS Media Intelligence reported that Pepsi’s commercials ranked first in overall media coverage last year, while Coca-Cola was third, behind Anheuser-Busch.

Pepsi has long been a staple of the Super Bowl, producing high-profile ads with pop-culture celebrities ranging from Britney Spears to Michael Jackson. This year, Pepsi commercials will feature appearances by Bob Dylan and rappers will.i.am and Li’l Wayne.

At first glance, it would appear that Pepsi has the edge over Coca-Cola this year, as it will air three times as many commercials. And perhaps more importantly, Pepsi paid for the exclusive category rights for the entire first half of the Super Bowl, essentially relegating Coca-Cola to the third and fourth quarters. First-half ad time is generally more coveted because viewers often turn away from the second half if the game is not competitive.

“That’s some strategic thinking,” Mr. Gregory said. “They’re going to be guaranteed people are going to be tuned in during the first half. It puts a lot more pressure on the second-half advertising to work well.”

But Coca-Cola downplayed the significance of having ads only in the second half.

“You never know with the Super Bowl what’s going to happen,” said Katie Bayne, chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola North America. “From being involved the last few years, we’ve found that people stay with the game to see great advertising as well as a great game. We got lucky last year, because all of our placements were in the third and fourth quarter, and if you checked quarter by quarter, that’s where the biggest audiences were.”

Moreover, Coca-Cola officials said they expect many viewers will stayed tuned in to watch the long-haired Mr. Polamalu re-create the famous “Mean” Joe Greene commercial, which Mr. Horowitz repeatedly has rated the best Super Bowl commercial of all time. The 1980 spot was made famous for a scene in which Greene gives his jersey to a young fan. Coca-Cola filmed the commercial long before the Steelers had qualified for the Super Bowl.

Occasionally, you get lucky,” Ms. Bayne said. “When we cast that spot a few months ago, we had no idea what teams were going to be in the Super Bowl, let along the players. It’s just a wonderful coincidence for us.”

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