Charlotte-area companies are shelling out big bucks to advertise locally during the Super Bowl, with commercials starring everything from farm animals to foot doctors.
Advertisers say a spot during the big game is worth the cost, even as the recession tightens its grip on most advertising budgets. It's a rare opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers – including many who are as interested in the commercials as the football.
“Your eyeball factor goes up so greatly there,” said Nathan Tothrow, marketing director at Charlotte Metro Credit Union, which is running a new ad featuring a “fee pig” during the game. “It's not only ratings; you're getting the eyeball glue. People hold on for the ads.”
Other local companies airing ads include Bojangles', CPI Security and Presbyterian Healthcare, said Ann Marie Young, sales director at WCNC, which is broadcasting the Super Bowl in the Charlotte area.
She said the station started selling the ads in October, around the time the recession began hitting many companies hardest. Interest spiked when the Panthers still had a shot at the championship, but the ads continued to sell even after the team lost, Young said.
Now the spots are mostly sold out, despite their higher-than-usual cost, which is based on viewership and demand. Young declined to give the exact price.
Advertisers in Charlotte and across the country are trimming their budgets, but some are taking advantage of the recession and looking to stand out, said Seth Werner, executive creative director at Eric Mower and Associates in Charlotte, whose credits include a spot for Stroh's beer called “Alex the Dog” that aired nationally during the Super Bowl in the mid-1980s.
As for buying airtime during the Super Bowl, “I would say, why not?” he said. “It's a great opportunity.”
Nationally, advertisers spend millions to create and broadcast ads for the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. NBC is charging as much as $3 million for 30 seconds of airtime, 11 percent more than Fox Broadcasting charged for its top slots last year.
Local ads don't carry nearly the same price tag, but they're still a big expense. Advertisers say it's worth the cost.
Charlotte Metro Credit Union first advertised during the Super Bowl last year, and the ads helped the company nearly quadruple its “aggressive” growth goals, Tothrow said.
He declined to say what the company paid for this year's airtime but said it saves money by writing scripts and creating storyboards in-house, rather than using an advertising agency.
Even with the Super Bowl ads, the credit union has spent less than others in the industry on advertising, Tothrow said.
Tothrow wrote the script for this year's “fee pig” ad this summer after research showed that the company's target demographic, 25- to 45-year-old women, is “drawn to fuzzy creatures,” appreciates humor and likes a direct message. The commercial pokes fun at bank fees, the Charlotte bourgeoisie and recent bank mergers.
The credit union is ramping up its marketing after the Super Bowl, too, putting the fee pig commercial into a regular rotation and launching smaller spots to market specific services, Tothrow said.
“It's ludicrous to cut back on marketing” in a down economy, he said.
Presbyterian Hospital has advertised during the Super Bowl on and off for eight years, spokeswoman Kati Everett said.
This year, it's airing an ad that promotes the services provided at Presbyterian Orthopaedic Hospital. Everett declined to say how much the spot cost, saying only that it was more expensive than advertising during a typical show.
“We want to be as efficient with our advertising dollars as possible, and the Super Bowl allows us to reach 45 percent of the Charlotte region with one placement,” she said in an e-mail. “We anticipate over 500,000 homes will be tuned into the game locally.”
Not only that – but very few of those viewers are expected to skip the commercials, she said.
For CPI Security, which aired its first local Super Bowl ad a few years ago when the Panthers were playing in the game, this year's ads are a chance to create long-term brand awareness, said Ken Black, the company's creative director.
“The Super Bowl is the biggest television event of the year,” he said.
The CPI commercial airing this year was shot in September; it's debuting during the Super Bowl, Black said.
Bojangles' plans to air an existing ad during the game, as well as during pre- and postgame coverage, spokesman Randy Poindexter said.
“We know it's one of the most-watched programs in the United States,” he said. “The game itself brings people together.”
And that could bring big business, even in these tough times, to local advertisers, said Werner, the creative director.
“Everybody's claiming the 30-second (commercial) is dead,” he said.
“At least for Super Bowl Sunday, it's not.”