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30 seconds that can make or break you

With such massive price tags, these commercials better deliver.

On February 5 NBC will broadcast the epic rematch between the Giants and Patriots. But maybe your team didn’t make it to the big game. Will you still watch Super Bowl XLVI? Of course you will. You’ll watch for the same reason about 54% of viewers do — the commercials.

On one night each year the titans of marketing and advertising attempt to wow us with about 50 minutes of the most expensive commercials on television. NBC has sold out all commercial airtime for the big game, reporting that the average cost this year for a 30-second spot is $3.5 million, with some time slots costing as much as $4 million. That’s a 16 to 25% hike from the $3 million average cost last year. With such massive price tags, these commercials better deliver.

Companies know that a Super Bowl spot can make you or break you. In 2005, Go Daddy’s provocative spoof of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction launched the fledgling company from single digits to nearly 50% share of the domain-name registry market, once again proving that you rarely go wrong throwing a bunch of hot, half-naked women at the screen. Go Daddy reportedly saw a 136% boost in site traffic, and went on to become the largest web hosting firm in the world.

But simply spending millions on a commercial doesn’t guarantee success. Groupon caught flak after last year’s Super Bowl commercial, with its seemingly disrespectful take on the unrest in Tibet. CEO Andrew Mason began Groupon as a way to raise money for various philanthropic organizations. Groupon eventually changed its focus to saving consumers money and grew into the $1.35 billion company it is today. Capitalistic sellout? Sure — but the company does retain a philanthropic side. In the 2011 commercial Groupon attempted to poke fun at itself, but instead presented a confusing message and offended millions of potential consumers.

Groupon will recover from last year’s blunder but other companies have not been so lucky. One of the Super Bowl’s worst-received commercials of all time was Just For Feet’s “Kenya Mission” commercial — which, let’s face it, was a bit racist — during Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999. Just For Feet sued its advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, saying it had relied on the agency’s expertise against its judgment. The suit was later dropped, and Just For Feet filed for bankruptcy. Now it’s Just Forgotten.

Some companies spend a surprising percentage of their entire annual marketing budget on a 30-second Super Bowl spot. With that kind of money on the line, they have to get it right. This year NBC has raised the stakes through the roof with prices for precious airtime at an all-time high. So, even though I’d be happy to see the Giants and the Patriots fall flat, I’ll tune in like the rest of America to see what can go memorably right — or painfully wrong — with a little creativity, a bit of daring and millions of dollars.

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