When the New York Giants and Denver Broncos take to the field in Pasadena, Calif., on Sunday for Super Bowl XXI, there should be plenty of action for football fans - and for advertisers with deep pockets. The Super Bowl attracts the largest television audience of any event. More than 125 million people are expected to tune in to CBS for some or all of the event, which kicks off at 6 p.m. (Eastern time).
With stakes this high, it's not so surprising that huge marketing and advertising contests are taking place off the field. The jockeying for position began months ago, and the big winners won't be known until weeks after the game's final whistle - when audience ratings are added up and advertisers ring up sales.
For some promotion experts, Super Bowl XXI is shaping up as the battle of the blimps. Pepsi-Cola's state-of-the-art Slice blimp noses out the familiar Goodyear blimp as CBS's ``official'' airship for covering the game.
Goodyear, which experienced takeover problems last year, has indicated that its famous blimp will put in its customary appearance. But you can expect to hear Slice mentioned frequently by the game's announcers.
Advertisers are predicting that the game could turn into a battle of the personal-computer kings, too. They're keeping a close watch for Apple Computer commercials to see whether the new Macintosh will be announced.
There have also been broad hints that IBM will use its pre- and postgame spots to launch its highly heralded PC 2. As the pregame publicity is being played out, both Apple and IBM are maintaining a tight-lipped silence.
CBS itself has come in for its share of speculation. Early in the bidding season, it raised prices for a 30-second spot to a record-breaking $600,000 - or well over $1 million for a minute of commercial time.
The cost is nearly 10 percent more than what NBC asked - and got - for last year's Super Bowl telecast. With mounting resistance among advertisers to television's high prices, many analysts were wondering whether CBS would be able to hold the line and sell all its available time.
Some speculated that CBS would have to put together ``packages'' which would include pre- and postgame spots and other events and would effectively reduce the cost per shot.
But two weeks before game time, George Schweitzer, the CBS Broadcast Group vice-president for communications, reported that the Super Bowl's 26 minutes of commercial time were sold out. The time went to a roster of more than 30 advertisers - some new and some returning after an absence of a year or more - who bought mostly 30-second commercials, with a few 15-second ``stand-alones.''
While conceding that some of the time had been sold as part of packages, he pointed to a full day of sports beginning at 11:30 a.m., with an NCAA basketball game, and running until 10 p.m., including postgame coverage. He refused to predict the size of the TV audience for the game but promised a day of events that would appeal to sport fans and advertisers alike.
``Traditionally, the Super Bowl attracts the largest audience of the year,'' Mr. Schweitzer said, ``and all the signs are favorable it will again this year.''
He cited the fact that the Giants represent the country's No. 1 television market and would be up against the Denver Broncos, adding an East-West interest to the title tilt. ``What's more,'' he said, ``the game will be played out during prime viewing hours on television.''
One of the viewers will be Bob Igiels, the director of network programming at N.W. Ayer Advertising in New York. He recommends the Super Bowl to advertisers because ``No other sports event on television can give you a 48 or 49 audience rating [a percentage of all television sets that are turned on at the time] like the Super Bowl. Depending on what you want your advertising to do, or the product you're selling, it's an excellent vehicle for introducing new products or brands and kicking off a new advertising campaign.''
He points to the demographics of the upscale audience with a heavy male skew as another reason for recommending the game.
The size of the audience and the demographics figures into Dodge's decision to return to this year's Super Bowl despite the high costs.
Thomas Houston, manager of public relations at the Dodge Division of Chrysler, says his company will be showing a package of four 30-second spots before, during, and after the game to introduce a new line of Dakota midsize trucks.
Dodge will also use another group of four commercials to launch its sporty, restyled 1987 Daytona performance car.
``Football demographics with a preponderance of male viewers is especially good for these products,'' says Mr. Houston. He points to the added mileage gained from merchandising Super Bowl participation to Dodge dealers.
A 30-second spot on the Super Bowl is just the ``tip of the iceberg,'' because of merchandising, and well worth the cost, contends Jack Otter, director of national broadcast at McCann-Erickson, a large New York-based ad agency.
``The Super Bowl lends itself marvelously to heavy merchandising efforts, whether you want to impress brokers, your own sales force, or customers. CBS is providing much assistance, but most advertisers go far beyond what the network can do.''
Michael Drexler, executive vice-president and national media director of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, another ad agency, confidently predicts that this year's Super Bowl will do even better than last year's. He has bought a trio of spots for Merrill Lynch, starting with a pregame 30 seconds and anchored by a highly visible kickoff spot at ``a package price better than what the network was charging for the game itself.''
American Airlines, another McCann-Erickson client, has also bought a Super Bowl package.
``It's much more than a media buy,'' says Mr. Drexler. ``It's a high-visibility event with a huge, upscale audience. More than half the males in the country and three-quarters of the professional-managerial group in high-income households with higher educational backgrounds will be watching.''