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Economic conditions during 2008–2010 have produced a variety of consequences: record unemployment levels, vast numbers of home foreclosures, and vanished retirement funds. But who would have thought that it would mean the difference for a great American icon too?

Almost as many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads as for the game itself. But the 2010 Super Bowl will be missing several of its historically biggest advertisers, including PepsiCo, FedEx, and General Motors. Their reasons for skipping the annual marketing ritual vary but all lead back to the recession that has forced companies to look hard at how they spend their advertising dollars.

The Super Bowl is known for showcasing new and innovative ads that give companies a chance to introduce new products to a massive audience. It also can create buzz about small companies that catch viewers’ eyes with risky, bold, or different ads. Because of this excitement, the Super Bowl may be the one program all year during which viewers don’t leave the room to get a snack during the commercial breaks.

But these appeals do not come cheap. Ad costs for 2010 are predicted to run between $2.5 and $3 million for each 30-second spot. Many companies, even long-time advertisers, have simply decided that reaching a market of 100 million viewers is not sufficiently appealing to justify the extraordinary costs—which also have to account for the costs involved in developing ads worthy of showing during the Super Bowl.

PepsiCo. may have been the biggest advertising buyer for the 2009 game with its five spots, but this year, its focus is its online promotion for Pepsi Refresh Project, a social responsibility grant program that will award $20 million to groups in 2010. This move may be just the start; more and more advertisers seem likely to shift their marketing mix toward the comparatively inexpensive medium of social media platforms as supplementary—or even primary—distribution channels for their communications.

Discussion Questions:

1. Why would well-known companies such as Pepsi want to advertise during the Super Bowl?

2. What might be the effects for various stakeholders if a lot of companies switch their spending from big-money ads to social media platforms?

Johnny Diaz, “Sitting This One Out,” Boston Globe, January 6, 2010.

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