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High Tech Had High Profile at Super Bowl

January 27, 1998|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Once as rare as AFC victories in the Super Bowl, high-tech ads in Sunday's telecast were more abundant than Denver touchdowns, with manufacturers pitching everything from computer security software (Network Associates) to zip drives (Iomega).

Following in the footsteps of consumer products giants such as PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch, more than half a dozen tech firms used humor, hype and Philosophy 101 to catch the jaded eye of consumers viewing an event that showcases the best the ad world has to offer.

That computers have moved onto the same level as beer, chips and cars is indicative, experts say, of how ubiquitous technology has become--both at home and at work.

"The PC is rapidly becoming a consumer appliance, and it's a natural evolution that high-tech companies would now be using the Super Bowl as a mass-awareness vehicle," said Ann Lewnes, advertising director at Intel. The chip giant was among seven tech advertisers in a game that, for once, was more exciting than the commercials.

Nearly 389,000 viewers accepted Intel's invitation to vote via the Internet on how the company's two-part "whodunit" commercial would end. Iomega hawked $149 zip drives, and Oracle's first brand campaign used images of social unrest around the world in a bid to position the company in the increasingly complex world of information management.

The companies, which paid $1.3 million for 30 seconds of air time, say the game provides more than simple access to millions of consumers struggling to tame their home computers.

"We were aiming primarily at executives, decision makers, people in the information management food chain at corporations," said Zach Nelson, general manager of network products at Network Associates. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's first Super Bowl ad showed two Soviet-era soldiers launching a rocket at Los Angeles--while wondering if the computer network controlling the launch had been compromised.

Despite grumbling about skyrocketing costs for advertising time, high-tech companies scrambled to suit up for the game. Two weeks ago, Apple Computer rushed to complete an ad featuring a snail with a Pentium chip on its back--but the ad wasn't aired, sources said, because NBC had already sold out its commercial time.

Intel's spot was among two that highlighted the growing convergence between television and computers.

Irvine-based Auto-by-Tel said its ad triggered a seventeenfold increase in the number of hits at its Web site. Actual requests from consumers for price quotes on cars more than doubled, founder and Chairman Pete Ellis said.

Even companies that didn't ask viewers to visit their Web sites enjoyed a brisk increase in hits. Network Solutions reported that visits rose by 50% on Sunday and continued at far above normal levels Monday.

Companies said they benefited by the dynamics of the game itself: underdog Denver beat Green Bay 31 to 24.

"We wanted an exciting game because we wanted people to stick around and see how the commercial ended," Intel's Lewnes said. "But with the game being as close as it was, maybe that did deter some viewers from voting."

Intel branded the experiment a success. "We accomplished what we set out to do, which was see whether this convergence between television and the Internet is possible," Lewnes said. "This opens up lots of possibilities for us and other advertisers."

Advertising executives said that technology is taking its rightful place in the Super Bowl broadcast.

"Technology is having a profound impact on people's lives," said Larry Kopald, executive creative director at Think New Ideas, which created Super Bowl ads for Network Solutions and Oracle. "Some of the tech companies that advertised were unknown to many people a year or two ago. But they're truly becoming more important across many different target groups."

Times staff writer Denise Gellene contributed to this report.

Tell us what you thought about the Super Bowl ads. You can share your comments by phone at (213) 237-3341, by e-mail at adbiz@latimes.com, or by fax at (213) 473-2480. The results will be published Thursday.

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* NEW STYLE: Levi Strauss is switching agencies after 67 years with Foote Cone. D2

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