Posted January 13, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Makers

Tabasco key player in Super Bowl ads

Thursday, January 13, 2005
By Ronette King
Business writer
Regardless of what teams are on the field for Super Bowl XXXIX, there will be at least one local player in the lineup. The advertising lineup, that is.

The McIlhenny Co., which makes Tabasco brand pepper sauce, will introduce a commercial during the Feb. 6 game in Jacksonville, Fla.

There among the products routinely advertised during the Super Bowl — beer, soft drinks, movies, chips and cars — will be the little pepper sauce from Avery Island.

“It’s not something that we can do every day, but we’re back again with what we think will be an exciting spark for this year’s game,” said Martin Manion, vice president of marketing for the McIlhenny Co. “We’re anxious to get it there.” McIlhenny’s previous Super Bowl advertisement ran in 1998.

For advertisers, the Super Bowl offers one of a dwindling number of chances to reach a massive audience. In the old days, advertisers could choose a highly rated television program that delivered big viewership and get the same result, said Teri Henley, a Loyola University advertising professor.

“But you can’t get that anymore,” Henley said. “Because the media has become so fragmented, there are only a couple of times that you can reach such a mass audience. To get that reach there’s really nothing like the Super Bowl.”

More than 90 million viewers are expected to watch this year’s Super Bowl. Some are actual game-watchers, and others will tune in to see the creative and memorable commercials the game generally delivers.

The estimated 60 commercial slots that run during the Super Bowl have become celebrated marketing events that create their own buzz.

This year a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl costs a reported $2.4 million to air, up from last year’s $2.3 million. By comparison, the most expensive commercial time on network television is $320,000 for 30 seconds during the “The Apprentice,” according to published reports.

Add in the cost of producing the commercial, and it becomes clear that Super Bowl advertising is a major marketing endeavor.

Manion said the expenditure on the Super Bowl is worthwhile.

“While we’re not as big a company as many of the routine advertisers that appear every time in the Super Bowl, we have a huge brand,” he said. “Tabasco is the leader in the category. Our brand name is in as many households as those brands. It’s an iconic brand in America and we think the brand deserved that kind of exposure.”

In McIlhenny’s 1998 Super Bowl commercial, called the “Mosquito” spot, a man splashes hot sauce on his pizza and takes a bite; then a mosquito takes a bite out of him, flies off and explodes. The new commercial offers a similarly unexpected twist, the company said, and leaves a lasting impression that only Tabasco can deliver.

McIlhenny executives were tight-lipped about the cost to produce the ad as well as the particulars of the spot, dubbed “Tan Lines.” The only hint lies in the message on the altered diamond-shaped label on bottles of sunscreen the company sent out promoting the ad: “From sidelines to tan lines Tabasco has you covered like SPF 100 sunblock.” The coconut-scented potion was shipped in the red-capped bottles that usually contain Tabasco sauce.

The spot is scheduled to run early in the third quarter of the game, possibly picking up viewers who will tune in just for the halftime show and stick around for a while, said Janet Bustin, managing director at DDB Dallas, the marketing and communications agency that has worked for McIlhenny for the past 18 years.

“The red sauce stands for the company’s entire line of products so it was the obvious choice for the ad,” Manion said. The company is using the Super Bowl to emphasize the stature of the brand among all other hot sauces. The spot will appear throughout the rest of 2005 on cable television to reach a more targeted audience, Bustin said.

In the first brush with a commercial, advertisers aren’t selling the product, but building the brand, Henley said. They’re creating initial recognition of the product in viewers’ minds, she said.

“A lot of advertisers launch their big ad (during) the Super Bowl, then you see it a great deal on much lower-priced programming,” Henley said. “That’s where you get the frequency and repetition that will cause (viewers) to remember the ad.”

Putting together a bowl-worthy ad is an intricate task. Bustin said DDB interviewed several directors before hiring Keith Rose, who has won numerous awards for his directing and camera work, including a Gold Lion at the Cannes Film Festival. DDB staffers were in Los Angeles this week putting finishing touches on the spot.

The Tabasco commercial was filmed in Los Angeles, and produced by DDB Dallas, which also created the McIlhenny spot that ran during the 1998 Super Bowl.

DDB offices in several cities are doing other spots during the game. The Chicago office is handling commercials for Anheuser-Busch and McDonald’s; the New York office is doing Bud Light and Diet Pepsi; and the Los Angeles office is handling Ameriquest Mortgage Company.

Among the other Super Bowl advertisers, according to published reports, are Volvo and Novartis’ CIBA Vision contact lenses, both of which are first-time Super Bowl advertisers. Ford and Lincoln Mercury automakers have returned after a decade away from the big game ad breaks. And McDonald’s is back for the first time since 1996, according to Advertising Age magazine. Other advertisers are an online video game and DVD rental company, an Internet domain name registry service and a job search Web site. The Super Bowl also is an advertising slot for movie studios launching Memorial Day releases.

Finally, a less expensive way advertisers can get in on the game is via local television stations that sell half-minute spots for far less than $1 million, according to Advertising Age.

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Ronette King can be reached at (504) 826-3308 or

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog