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Why Did the Dot.Coms Fumble During the Super Bowl?

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

While the Rams may have won Super Bowl 2000 by a yard, it was painfully obvious from watching the game and reading the post game analysis that 13 firms fumbled 13 times.  That privilege to play and lose cost each of them a minimum of $2.2 million (excluding production costs) for the privilege to play before what is called the broadest television audience of the year.

Ever since Apple ran their famed “1984” ad once in the Super Bowl, the media and advertisers alike have given unprecedented coverage to the advertisers, the quality of the ads and post-game analysis of the winners and losers.  

What savvy marketing and agency people understand from the 1984 experience wasn’t the ad itself (although it was brilliant in concept and development) but rather the fact that it was based on sound corporate and product branding strategy.  The tactical execution by Chiat-Day was equally excellent because it enabled the viewers to identify and become involved with the product.

Just to show that Apple and Chiat-Day doesn’t do everything correctly the following year’s “Lemming” Super Bowl ad was one which both teams would rather forget.  Implying that everyone is a follower doesn’t work as well as one person (you or I) winning out against the establishment.

Regardless of your agreement or disagreement over the execution, the dot.coms came up short long before game time because very simply they had no brand equity to begin with.  Their hopes and dreams were hinged on producing some level of brand equity with a major role of the dice.

It didn’t work and it can’t work!

Brand equity is based on the customer’s perception of the company and products, not the company’s perception or how the company wants to be perceived.

Apple had built brand equity long before the 1984 ad and the TV spot itself was actually a tightly woven view of that positioning.  In fact, the 1984 ad did run more than once.  It was the central point of a well planned and executed marketing communications and PR campaign.  The month before the airing there was a guerrilla PR effort of shrouded mystery surrounding the subject matter and whether or not the ad would even appear.  There was a follow-on campaign that produced radio and TV news show coverage, business and general media coverage that discussed the positioning, execution and appearance.  

Like the rollout of a new iMac system, the actual showing of 1984 was almost dwarfed by the pre and post play coverage.

The challenge for the dot.coms, and in fact every company today, is to focus first on developing a sound and strong infrastructure as to who the company is, what the company and products/services stand for and why they are going to benefit and assist the customer.  

Advertising is an important part of that mix.  But it is only part of the mix.  

A better example in the same game, regardless of what you thought of the ads, was E*Trade.  The company has been around for Internet eons (since September 1989).  They have invested millions in their service infrastructure.  They have done a good job of positioning and publicizing their activities and their services.  They have even been very forthcoming when they had outages and service problems.  They moved aggressively to overcome these issues for their customers.

The company has spent considerable time and effort understanding who they are, why customers visit them and the type of experience the customer has with the site.

The same has been true of, which in light of recent financial shortcomings and layoffs only watched the Super Bowl from the sidelines.

But Amazon has focused on building a relationship with customers.  They tailor the buying experience to the customer.  They listen to and respond quickly to customer ideas and problems.  The company has an enormous and rich database of information about their customers that can be studied, analyzed and drawn from in an almost limitless number of ways.

They know how to make the customer’s experience one that is satisfying so they can develop a long-term and profitable relationship with millions of people…one person at a time.

We have no idea of knowing how many people were driven to the web sites as a result of the ads.  But if the visitor’s experience wasn’t positive then it was money ill spent.

The companies would have been better counseled to spend the millions to focus on the customer and his or her experience.  The money would have been better spent using other forms of communications including PR to tell the marketplace who the firms are, the value and service they bring to the customers and why/how the company and products will meet the customers wants and needs.

But if the founders and their venture capital backers were only looking for a fast method of moving the companies to an IPO it might have been money well spent for those who used the Super Bowl as one giant roll of the dice.  It could help millions of investors from wanting to rush in and invest in these firms in the future.

© Copyright 2000, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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