The Dot Com Super Bowl

Pets.com Super Bowl ad
Still from Pets.com’s Super Bowl XXXIV ad

As the Internet became more popular and the new millennium approached, it wasn’t uncommon to see the entertainment industry trying to get in on the fun. Your favourite TV shows would have episodes revolving around a character doing something that involved the Internet, rather than it being presented as an every day thing. Popular music would make corny attempts to work this trendy new thing into their lyrics and videos. Films such as You’ve Got Mail were likely created to relate to a newly-connected audience of moviegoers.

It’s no secret that when the entertainment world wants to jump on a trend, the hype is heavily milked. So what happens when you combine the Super Bowl, one of the biggest television events of the year, with the Internet, a larger-than-life technology growing in popularity? You get the “Dot Com Super Bowl” of 2000.

Internet-themed football?

Super Bowl XXXIV wasn’t actually a “dot com” themed game like the name may make it sound. The nickname comes from the fact that 20 per cent of the game’s famous commercial block for that year were ads from Internet startups.

Without any fear that the Dot Com Bubble would burst any time soon, companies such as E-Trade made it clear that Internet startups really had “money out the wazoo” in order to spend $2.2 million on a Super Bowl ad for that year. Luckily for E-Trade, it was able to hold on to its money and continue to prosper to this day, unlike the majority of other advertisers who folded not long after their Super Bowl ads aired.

Pets.com showcased their sock-puppet mascot, Computer.com let the world know they were a resource for all-things computer knowledge, and Electronic Data Systems used cat herding to promote their IT services. The ads were fun and captivating, and are also likely the only reason many of these startups continue to have a legacy to this day.

Despite their commercials being entertaining, it was clear that nobody really knew what they were doing. LifeMinders.com, for example, created a basic commercial that included the text “This is the worst commercial on the Super Bowl,” and “…we don’t know diddly about making ads.”  Though it was among one of the few funnier moments of self-awareness, it sent a message loud and clear that those running the company needed a better strategy before blowing a ton of money on a one-time major advertising campaign.

Failed advertising

These 22 Internet startups had ads sandwiched between the likes of M&Ms, FedEx, and even Budweiser’s iconic “WHAZZUP?” ad, but today, only nine of them remain active. So what gives?

Fate was already sealed for many of these startups with the bubble bursting not long after, and their Super Bowl ad performances didn’t help. Communicus research suggests that 80 per cent of Super Bowl advertisers don’t see any sales increase after their commercial airs. This also correlates to the fact that many of the dot com advertisers didn’t do much advertising after their big Super Bowl moment, and also let other poor business planning and practices drive them into the ground.

Some advertisers, such as OurBeginning.com did see a revenue increase post-broadcast. Despite that, these gains were temporary and were just another factor leading to the demise of these failed startups.

The only nine active dot com companies that advertised are AutoTrader.com, LastMinuteTravel.com, Monster.com, WebMD, Britannica, E-Trade, Electronic Data Systems, Kfocre, and Microstrategy.

Aftermath

The lesson learned? It’s a simple one, honestly: Don’t go spending a shitload of your money on a single ad campaign when you’re not doing anything else to keep your promotion steady. The story of the Dot Com Super Bowl is a reminder of one thing that couldn’t save the Dot Com Bubble from bursting.

It’s unfortunate that many of these sites didn’t stick around. Some of them had great concepts, and obviously very creative teams. Perhaps if things were different back then, if as many people had an Internet connection as those today, things may have turned out another way for these sites.

Click the embedded video below to view the entire Super Bowl XXXIV commercial playlist.

What’s your favourite Dot Com Super Bowl commercial? Share your story in the comments.

Have a suggestion for a future post? Have a net memory of your own that you’d like to share? Send an e-mail to thenetstorian@gmail.com.

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Author: The Netstorian

Internet culture enthusiast and creator of The Netstorian.

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