Super Bowl regulars like FedEx Corp., Garmin Ltd., Salesgenie.com and General Motors Corp. are sitting out this year's football championship, to be held Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla. But NBC says it is negotiating with other potential advertisers for the eight 30-second advertising spots that remain open.
"We're hearing from a lot of companies," said Brian Walker, senior director of communications at NBC Sports in New York. "This is a time to show strength and confidence in their brands in a challenging economy,"
Walker said NBC had a total of around 67 spots for Super Bowl XLIII and has sold about 59, or 88 percent. In September, NBC said 85 percent of the 30-second spots had sold for about $3 million each. Typically, 60 percent of Super Bowl slots sell by then.
The National Football League championship is considered the premier advertising event of the year, and it often heralds new trends in advertising sales and styles.
Walker said NBC could technically sell ad spots up to the last minute before the event. He declined to say whether NBC a unit of NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric Co. is facing pressure from companies to discount rates.
GM, which bought airtime during the Super Bowl for about a decade, is cutting costs as part of a restructuring plan that was in place even before the automaker requested federal help.
FedEx spokeswoman Carla Boyd said that the company has "no plans to advertise" in the game for now, though she declined to give a reason. The shipping company, which this month reaffirmed its long-term plans to grow revenue by 10 percent and earnings per share by 10 to 15 percent per year, was a Super Bowl advertiser for a dozen years.
Garmin, which has bought ads in the past two Super Bowls, said it won't do so in 2009. Spokesman Ted Gartner said the shift wasn't related to the economy but to a change in strategy.
Salesgenie.com also confirmed it won't be in the 2009 Super Bowl after participating in the event for the last two years. The company declined to say why.
Many traditional Super Bowl sponsors are staying on, Walker said, including prepackaged goods and beverage companies and nearly every major movie studio. He declined to provide or confirm details.
At least one sponsor is returning after an extended absence: Monster Worldwide Inc., whose last Super Bowl appearance was in 2004.
Monster spokesman Steve Sylven said the return to the championship is part of a multiyear advertising partnership with the NFL that kicks off at the games, as the job-search company unveils a redesigned Web site on Jan. 10.
In addition to job listings, the new site will help people manage their careers and improve their work lives, Sylven said. The core concept is that if people are happy at work, they'll be happy about life, he said, declining to comment further on the ads.
Anheuser-Busch Cos. Ltd. is one company that's going to keep advertising. It bought 10 30-second spots, some of which will be combined to run as 60-second spots.
"It's a bit of a scary time for marketers, but I think this is the best time of all to put out a positive image," said the company's chief creative officer, Bob Lachky. "It's one little island of normalcy in a time when things are a little crazy."
The company filmed its commercials on a Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, Calif., under balmy skies last week.
One features a Clydesdale who immigrates from Scotland. The horse tries its hand or hoof at different jobs ranging from racehorse to buggy puller with limited success, until it finds its true calling.
The spot's elaborate set included a turn-of-the-century New York streetscape with dozens of extras, overseen by top-shelf ad director Joe Pytka. The crew also shot on location in Scotland, demonstrating the extent to which Anheuser-Busch will go for its Super Bowl ads.
Budweiser ads in Super Bowls date back to 1975 when a hotrodding skier revealed she was a Bud girl. The self-proclaimed King of Beers has reigned over the alcoholic beverage segment at the Super Bowl since securing exclusive rights in the category in a 1989 deal set to last through 2012.
Lachky said the Super Bowl is worth the price because it reaches 100 million viewers who are generally in a feel-good, party environment where beer is a perfect fit, setting the marketing tone for the rest of the year.
"It really does kick off our selling season," he said.