Super Bowl Ad Payoff Uncertain

Only a handful of Super Bowl advertisers saw their site traffic pick up after big-budget ad buys — and, surprise, they weren’t dot-coms.

Online panel researchers Jupiter Media Metrix and comScore Networks found that traditional advertisers’ Web sites saw increased traffic from their advertising buys during Super Bowl XXXVI, while in some cases, dot-com advertisers actually saw a decline in visits.

TMP Worldwide’s Monster.com aired three commercials — before, during, and after the game. Only the lesser-priced, pre-game spot generated immediate hits, according to comScore: traffic before the game was 30 percent more than the same time during the previous week. During the game, however, traffic fell to slightly below the previous week.

Likewise, Jupiter found that Sunday’s traffic to Monster.com was down 179,000, from Saturday’s 652,000 unique visitors.

Monster.com’s rival — and onetime acquisition target — HotJobs also saw traffic decline from Saturday, according to Jupiter. The career site, which ran its first ad in a new campaign, saw 299,000 unique visitors, down from 360,000 the previous day.

It’s debatable whether E*Trade saw an immediate return in site traffic as a result of its 60-second commercial early in the game, and its sponsorship of the half-time show. According to comScore, the site saw a 26 percent upswing in site visitors during the half-time break, but Jupiter found that etrade.com’s unique visitors dropped 30 percent from Saturday, to 120,000 visitors.

Despite what looks to be disappointing returns from the dot-coms’ media buys, traditional advertisers saw a marked return in Web site traffic.

AT&T Wireless’ mLife.com, the Web site advertised in the mobile carrier’s enigmatic campaign, received a whopping traffic spike. During the course of the game, Jupiter found that mLife.com received 681,000 unique visitors — more than 20 times’ the site’s usual traffic. Most of that traffic occurred just after the spot aired — three 15-second mLife spots prompted a 72,000-user spike, while the company’s 60-second ad drove 56,000 users in the fifteen minutes immediately following the spot. (That figure might have even been higher, had mlife.com not become unavailable to many users during the game, potentially a victim of its own success.)

While not making as big a wave as mlife.com, Pepsi’s online tie-in also paid off for the beverage manufacturer. Launched in conjunction with Web portal Yahoo, an elaborate, 60-second spot with pop star Britney Spears flashed the URL — pepsi.yahoo.com — for just an instant at the end of the spot. But that brief mention proved enough to rocket the site from “no reportable traffic” the night before to 135,000 unique visitors during the game, according to Jupiter.

Venerable U.S. automaker General Motors — which rolled out two spots for the new Cadillac — saw a boost in traffic to cadillac.com 54 percent greater than before the commercials aired, and nearly double its traffic from the previous Sunday, comScore said.

Of course, same-day traffic is only a small part of the picture, since ad impressions could be directly responsible for increased traffic in the days and weeks following.

But if Sunday’s performance is any indication, bad news could be on the way on a host of fronts for the Internet firms, whose fortunes are in many ways naturally linked to their site’s prominence. In addition to figuring out why consumers might not have reacted to their ads, the firms’ management now must face the unpleasant task of justifying the massive spend (estimates range from $1.5 million to $1.8 million for a 30-second spot) to shareholders.

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