Having watched every play of Super Bowl XLIII Sunday, I can honestly say that it was perhaps the best game in the history of this storied championship. Perhaps far more important, did you happen to catch the game within the game? While the Steelers and the Cardinals fought to the bitter end in a hard-hitting contest, the studios did their own warfare in 30-second bites. Of the 67 spots that aired during the game, ten were trumpeting movies. At $2.7 million per 30-second spot, I take that as a positive sign for the overall health of the movie game.
Sure, you could argue that the very need for these incredibly expensive ads is further proof of how hard and how pricey it is to connect with the coveted "target audience." But the very fact that the studios can afford these ads and remain convinced they are making sound investments when plunking down that kind of green, bodes well. (Last year, by comparison, eight ads out of 55 were for movies. So, while the economy took a nose dive, movie ad buys actually increased.)
In my clouded memory (I’m old enough to have watched just about every Super Bowl) most of the best ads over the years have been for automobiles and soft drinks. There was a time — before people like Springsteen and U-2 started playing at half-time — when we would actually be excited about seeing the new Coca-Cola commercial. By the way, where were they this year? I saw the Budweiser Clydesdales do their thing twice, but where were the Coca-Cola polar bears? In 2009, the movies seemed to dominate the ad landscape.
Here’s something the casual viewer might not have noticed: The ten movies being sold all open on different dates. Beginning with Disney’s "Race to Witch Mountain" (3/13/09) and culminating with Paramount’s "GI Joe" (8/07/09), each of these mega-movies (at least on paper) come out on their own weekend where they need not mash-up head to head with any of the other Super Bowl spot buyers. One could argue that the ads themselves are sort of chest-thumping, flag-planting warnings across the bow, but in truth the battle for those spots was finished months ago.
Walk into any studio chairman’s office today and you will inevitably spot the "big board" with each of the studios in one column and the calendar spread across the other side. There they can quickly survey the cinema landscape to see what they are up against. As dates change (a movie runs over and can’t make its post-production schedule for example) dates open and the game adjusts. But for those ten movies advertised Sunday, I would not expect to see the chess pieces move too much. It is interesting to note that of the ten, three were sequels ("Angels and Demons," "Fast and Furious 3" and "Transformers 2." The other six were big titles with built-in awareness (What guy didn’t have a GI Joe toy as a kid or watch any of the multiple incarnations of "Star Trek" on TV? ). By now you get the idea: these ads are not for word of mouth character-driven films. Superspots (as I like to call them) only make sense for event movies that already have a head of steam, often based on the title alone.
But even if your movie was left out and you woke up convinced the studio is not fully behind your masterpiece, the preponderance of those ads bodes well for our industry. A piece in the L.A. Times Monday confirmed as much. The story indicated that despite the deepening recession, audiences coughed up more than onw billion dollars to go to the movies in January alone and that was a 19% increase over last years numbers for the same period. Forget the tired explanation that audiences want to escape when times are bleak: the real reason is that movies are still a great value and Hollywood still makes them better than anyone else. That may not be true of beer, sports cars and baby strollers, but it is true of the movies.
Ten spots at $2.7 million each comes out to a whopping $27 million expenditure in just one broadcast. (It was actually quite a bit more when you consider that the 3-D spot for "Monsters vs. Aliens "cost quite a bit more) All right, the Super Bowl is a one of a kind event. But make no mistake: Those weren’t Hail Mary’s the studios tossed , they were sharp passes straight up the middle. I for one, look forward to seeing all of the movies and whether I want to or not, I’m sure my kids will be pushing me out the door to take them anyway.