10 Super Bowl Advertisers That Went Up In Flames

This year, Super Bowl ads will go for about $4 million per 30 second spot. It’s important to keep in mind that these 30 seconds translate into 15-minutes of fame. There are very few marketing campaigns with this type of guaranteed spillover. Thanks in large part to the internet, these commercials now also get plenty of extended play. The day following the Super Bowl, many television networks will air the commercial in their own Super Bowl advertisement segment. In addition to TV channels, many internet sites, both popular and grass roots, will air the commercial again. Then, if the commercial is good enough (or bad enough), it will get played again every year weeks before the Super Bowl for as long as the NFL rules the sports world – in North America, that is.

But is a Super Bowl advertisement for everyone? The answer is simply no. Most of the companies that fork over the cash year after year are leading companies with money to burn; McDonalds, Pepsi, Budweiser, and Doritos. However, every year, newcomers make their way onto the list, and the price is typically very steep for them. These newcomers are not heavy hitters who can take a few failed ads on the chin. Instead, as history has shown, these newcomers are banking on the one commercial to pay back.

In 2000, many dot-com start-ups used the Super Bowl to launch their business. Most of them are not in business anymore, or have been sold to larger companies. There have been some success stories; an executive for an online company claimed a Super Bowl ad drove-in over 25 million visitors the week following the big game. But most do not share a similar fate. Here are the top 10 Super Bowl advertisers who went nowhere good, and fast.

10 Polaroid (1981)

Ad Cost: Approx. $222,000

When Polaroid paid $222,000 to appear in their first and last Super Bowl ad, they were unknowingly at the height of their success. From that moment forward, Polaroid’s tumble to near extinction was underway. In 1986, Polaroid would finally win a patent battle against Kodak, forcing Kodak to walk away from the instant camera business – ironically a business-saving move for Kodak.

In 2001, Polaroid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company’ assets would be liquidated, including its name “Polaroid”, which was to instant photos as Kleenex is to tissues, or Tylenol to acetaminophen. In 2008, a second bankruptcy followed. Today, Polaroid has become a lot like a start-up, and experiments with hybrid classic products.

9 Electronic Data Systems (2000)

Ad Cost: Approx. $2.2 million

Electronic Data Systems (EDS) was a multinational IT equipment and services company headquartered in Texas. It was originally founded by former Presidential nominee Ross Perot. In the 60s, EDS had gained significant ground in government contracts with their work on Medicare and Medicaid. In 1984, EDS was sold to GM and 12 years later, GM made EDS an independent company.

By the late 90s, EDS was struggling to re-establish a presence in the market, and purchased a Super Bowl ad for $2.2 million as part of a full tilt marketing campaign. The results were not promising and the struggles continued - key customers filed for bankruptcy, technology was rapidly changing, and the SEC even conducted an investigation. For three years following its Super Bowl ad, EDS struggled. In 2008, EDS was acquired by HP.

8 Pontiac (1998)

Ad Cost: Approx. $1.2 million

One of the better commercials among top Super Bowl ads was Pontiac’s version of the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon. The famous coyote used a Widetrack Grand Prix to catch the Road Runner, but unfortunately ran out of air-time as the cartoon/commercial ended. Pontiac had mixed success in the 90s. Their flagship Grand Prix still had moderate sales, but other models struggled. In 2008, GM announced that it would eliminate most of its brands, which included Pontiac. The official elimination did not take place until about a year later. By late 2010, all Pontiac models were phased out.

7 HotJobs.com (1999)

Ad Cost: Approx. $1.6 million

HotJobs was launched in 1996. By 1999 it had recorded revenue of $2.5 million, which was just enough to buy commercial time for the biggest sporting event in North America – the Super Bowl. The $1.6 million ad paid off nearly twenty-fold. Shortly after the ad aired, site traffic overwhelmed the site’s servers.  A year after the commercial, HotJobs.com had earned over $100 million in revenue. By 2002, the site generated enough buzz to attract buyers – specifically Yahoo. Yahoo purchased HotJobs.com for a reported $436 million and the name HotJobs.com was changed to Yahoo HotJobs.

In 2010, Monster.com paid Yahoo nearly half of what Yahoo originally paid for the site. The deal had a clause that would allow Yahoo to continue to receive profits for the next few years. Today, hotjobs.com takes visitors to monster.com and HotJobs.com is officially a thing of the past.

6 Buy.com (1999)

Ad Cost: Approx. $1.6 million

Just ahead of the curve, Buy.com was one of the first internet companies to buy a Super Bowl ad. The company was founded in 1997 and sold over $111 million in 1998. Success was assured – well, sort of. Before the company would go public, founder Scott Blum sold his share. The company’s value quickly diminished in the public market. Blum came back to re-acquire the company and return Buy.com to the private sector. The company would go on to be quite successful, and was eventually sold to Rakuten, a Japanese company, for approximately $250 million. Today, Buy.com has been completely replaced with Rakuten.com, leaving no trace of Buy.com behind.

5 LifeMinders.com (2000)

Ad Cost: Approx. $2 million

In 2000, LifeMinders.com bought air time during the Super Bowl for $2 million. Famously known as the “Worst Commercial in the Super Bowl”, the ad attracted a lot of attention. In the first week following the ad, 700,000 visitors subscribed. LifeMinders.com offered customers regular emailed newsletters on the subjects of their choice. All customers had to do was subscribe. There was no subscription fee and in a short time the online service attracted millions. Unfortunately, just a few short months after their 15-minutes of fame, LifeMinders.com went bust.

4 Outpost.com (1998)

Ad Cost: Approx. $1.3 million

If you think gerbils being fired out of a cannon is comical, then you’ll enjoy Outpost’s Super Bowl ad. The controversial ad received mixed reviews at the time. Cyberian Outpost was founded in 1994. In 1998, it was officially a public traded company, and in 2000 its stock price reached $60. It was a promising time for the online discount vendor until the dot-com bubble burst. The company was liquidated, and its assets were sold to Fry’s Electronics a year later. Outpost.com survived for another five years before it was completely re-branded as Fry.com.

3 Epidemic.com (2000)

Ad Cost: Approx. $1.6 million

Epidemic.com’s Super Bowl ad was not only forgettable, but also unclear. The company was an online marketing firm and its strategy was to stimulate viral internet activity through the use of a paid referral process. Users would include a link to a product in their email, and then receive a commission if the recipient of that email bought a product. Though it attempted to merge with another company, the deal never went through. Epidemic failed and was forced to close after its primary investor walked away. Today, Epidemic.com is still for sale.

2 Pets.com (1999)

Ad Cost: Approx. $1.6 million

Regarded as one of the most memorable dot-com bubble victims, Pets.com would only be in operation for less than 2 years. After only a year in operation, the company launched a huge marketing campaign that included a Macy’s Day Parade and a Super Bowl ad. Their mascot, a singing sock puppet, would be the lead actor in the Super Bowl commercial and go so far as to be interviewed on TV talk shows. The company liquidated in less than a year from the time it entered the NASDAQ. PetSmart would acquire Pets.com days after Pets.com liquidated.

1 Flo TV (2010)

Ad Cost: Approx. $2.8 million

FLO TV ran a Super Bowl ad in 2010 and eight months later Qualcomm announced it was selling FLO TV to AT&T (spectrum sale). The service offered a mobile television service, but stumbled for two main reasons. One, the idea of watching live television on a mobile device just wasn’t wanted enough to make the move make sense. Two, the service initially only worked on a dedicated device, though eventually AT&T enabled it on certain handsets.

For whatever it was worth, the ad featured CBS sportscaster icon Jim Nantz. Ultimately the technology was about three years too early; the world was not quite ready for FLO TV.

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