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You know that joke about the kid who gets a pile of horse manure for his birthday and starts digging through it madly? When asked why, he responds, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere."

So it goes with the Super Bowl: There's got to be a football game in there somewhere, but it's buried beneath a mountain of hype, half-time glitz and multi-million-dollar TV ads.

Yet we watch -- 138.9 million viewers last year, and who knows how many more for Sunday's broadcast on CBS -- and the manure is part of the allure. AOL is inviting users to vote on their favorite Super Bowl ads, and CBS on Saturday night is devoting a program to a countdown of the classics. AdAge.com calls the game "a touchdown for erectile dysfunction drugs," pointing out that Viagra, Levitra and Cyalis have all bought spots. Call it a jerk-off.

Chrysler is getting publicity for the ads it's decided not to run; it bowed out this week from sponsorship of the Lingerie Bowl, pay-per-view's soft-core counter-programming effort. And most notoriously, MoveOn.org has reaped loads of free publicity for its anti-Bush spot, which CBS refused on the grounds that it was an "advocacy ad."

It's no wonder advertisers want to catch a piece of the action. And they're not just the megabucks multi-nationals -- local advertisers, too, leap at the chance to be seen by the biggest TV audience of the year. Jim Strader, director of programming and production for Burlington-based CBS affiliate WCAX-TV3, estimates that there are 592,000 potential viewers in the station's tri-state market. If Sunday's ratings perform at the usual Super Bowl level of 30 to 40 percent of the viewing audience -- and in New England, the numbers could be even greater this year -- that's more than 200,000 viewers.

Which means that WCAX can jack up its ad rates for the occasion: $5000 for a 30-second spot during a local Super Bowl "break." That's peanuts compared to what CBS is charging for 30 seconds -- a record-breaking $2.25 million -- but it's still about 10 times the cost of an ad on the local evening-news broadcast.

WCAX could work for MoveOn. org, since the station does accept "issue ads." While he hasn't seen the spot, Strader said the station would consider running it if there was any local ad space left to sell. At press time MoveOn hadn't responded to a query about that option.

*****

How do you make a locally produced Super Bowl spot stand out amidst all the high-budget hype for Bud Light and better hard-ons? That's what Perrywinkle's Fine Jewelry is up against this year.

Vermont owner Perry Sporn has advertised the store with radio ads for many years. He's also run a cryptic TV spot using nothing but the store logo for the visual. He does the voiceovers for both. This year, though -- perhaps because he's opening a new branch in downtown Burlington -- Sporn is upping the ante, paying for a 30-second ad produced by WCAX, using live actors and Sporn's own football-themed script.

WCAX makes a lot of commercials -- approximately 900 a year, including some shown on all local stations, not just Channel 3. "We're the Land of the McMercial," says Thea Dion, senior writer-producer for commercials and promos. "We do it quickly, we do it well." Will Sporn's ad, dubbed "Romance Game," linger in local viewers' memories along with such Super Bowl ad "classics" as Apple Computer's "1984" or Levis' "Crazy Legs"? Here's the game plan:

The idea: "Training camp basics" for men who want to win in "the game of romance." As the voiceover runs through a list of romantic ploys, we see an attractive woman considering the options and a referee responding with appropriate signals ("false start," "pass complete") until we get to "touchdown" -- which, of course, results from a gift of jewelry from Perrywinkle's.

The ref: Michael Young, a.k.a. "Dom." He has twinkly brown eyes and a chin dimple, but has never acted. He's got the referee signals down. Plus, he's buddies with everyone in the WCAX production department. In real life Young is a loan analyst with VSAC. (Full disclosure: I auditioned for this role myself, but my ref credentials were weak.)

The girl: Christina Fitzpatrick. She has a killer smile and looks like a model, which in fact she's just become. An Internet banker with Merchants Bank, she's following in the footsteps of her 8-year-old daughter, who was already signed with a modeling agency before her mother decided to do the same. The Perrywinkle's ad is her first gig. "My kids are gonna freak!" she says after a particularly seductive come-hither moment in front of the camera.

The crew: Thea Dion, account executive Tim Kavanagh and videographer-editors Dan Burke and Erik Goodrich. There's an easy, joking camaraderie among the four vets. Dion has been at the station for 15 years.

The production values: Well, it ain't Hollywood. But "Romance Game" is more complicated than many of the ads WCAX produces. Most merchants prefer to shoot at their place of business using their own staffers as talent, but Sporn was willing to pay for actors and studio time.

The production budget: $1000. $60 an hour for the shoot and the editing. $75 and up, flat rate, for the actors. $100 for red and gold satin sheets used as backdrops. Why red satin? "We wanted the sexuality to come through," Kavanagh says, allowing that it might have been a good idea to rent a steamer, too -- to get rid of the pleats. $15 for the referee hat. The ref's jersey was free, though; Kavanagh borrowed it from his kid's football league.

The result? Hard to say. Editing was the next step, and the client still has to approve. The talent is excited at being part of the most-watched TV event of the year. "We're taping the entire Super Bowl!" vows Fitzpatrick. And who knows? If "Romance Game" scores a touchdown, you may just see it in replay -- again and again and again…

You know that joke about the kid who gets a pile of horse manure for his birthday and starts digging through it madly? When asked why, he responds, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere."

So it goes with the Super Bowl: There's got to be a football game in there somewhere, but it's buried beneath a mountain of hype, half-time glitz and multi-million-dollar TV ads.

Yet we watch -- 138.9 million viewers last year, and who knows how many more for Sunday's broadcast on CBS -- and the manure is part of the allure. AOL is inviting users to vote on their favorite Super Bowl ads, and CBS on Saturday night is devoting a program to a countdown of the classics. AdAge.com calls the game "a touchdown for erectile dysfunction drugs," pointing out that Viagra, Levitra and Cyalis have all bought spots. Call it a jerk-off.

Chrysler is getting publicity for the ads it's decided not to run; it bowed out this week from sponsorship of the Lingerie Bowl, pay-per-view's soft-core counter-programming effort. And most notoriously, MoveOn.org has reaped loads of free publicity for its anti-Bush spot, which CBS refused on the grounds that it was an "advocacy ad."

It's no wonder advertisers want to catch a piece of the action. And they're not just the megabucks multi-nationals -- local advertisers, too, leap at the chance to be seen by the biggest TV audience of the year. Jim Strader, director of programming and production for Burlington-based CBS affiliate WCAX-TV3, estimates that there are 592,000 potential viewers in the station's tri-state market. If Sunday's ratings perform at the usual Super Bowl level of 30 to 40 percent of the viewing audience -- and in New England, the numbers could be even greater this year -- that's more than 200,000 viewers.

Which means that WCAX can jack up its ad rates for the occasion: $5000 for a 30-second spot during a local Super Bowl "break." That's peanuts compared to what CBS is charging for 30 seconds -- a record-breaking $2.25 million -- but it's still about 10 times the cost of an ad on the local evening-news broadcast.

WCAX could work for MoveOn. org, since the station does accept "issue ads." While he hasn't seen the spot, Strader said the station would consider running it if there was any local ad space left to sell. At press time MoveOn hadn't responded to a query about that option.

*****

How do you make a locally produced Super Bowl spot stand out amidst all the high-budget hype for Bud Light and better hard-ons? That's what Perrywinkle's Fine Jewelry is up against this year.

Vermont owner Perry Sporn has advertised the store with radio ads for many years. He's also run a cryptic TV spot using nothing but the store logo for the visual. He does the voiceovers for both. This year, though -- perhaps because he's opening a new branch in downtown Burlington -- Sporn is upping the ante, paying for a 30-second ad produced by WCAX, using live actors and Sporn's own football-themed script.

WCAX makes a lot of commercials -- approximately 900 a year, including some shown on all local stations, not just Channel 3. "We're the Land of the McMercial," says Thea Dion, senior writer-producer for commercials and promos. "We do it quickly, we do it well." Will Sporn's ad, dubbed "Romance Game," linger in local viewers' memories along with such Super Bowl ad "classics" as Apple Computer's "1984" or Levis' "Crazy Legs"? Here's the game plan:

The idea: "Training camp basics" for men who want to win in "the game of romance." As the voiceover runs through a list of romantic ploys, we see an attractive woman considering the options and a referee responding with appropriate signals ("false start," "pass complete") until we get to "touchdown" -- which, of course, results from a gift of jewelry from Perrywinkle's.

The ref: Michael Young, a.k.a. "Dom." He has twinkly brown eyes and a chin dimple, but has never acted. He's got the referee signals down. Plus, he's buddies with everyone in the WCAX production department. In real life Young is a loan analyst with VSAC. (Full disclosure: I auditioned for this role myself, but my ref credentials were weak.)

The girl: Christina Fitzpatrick. She has a killer smile and looks like a model, which in fact she's just become. An Internet banker with Merchants Bank, she's following in the footsteps of her 8-year-old daughter, who was already signed with a modeling agency before her mother decided to do the same. The Perrywinkle's ad is her first gig. "My kids are gonna freak!" she says after a particularly seductive come-hither moment in front of the camera.

The crew: Thea Dion, account executive Tim Kavanagh and videographer-editors Dan Burke and Erik Goodrich. There's an easy, joking camaraderie among the four vets. Dion has been at the station for 15 years.

The production values: Well, it ain't Hollywood. But "Romance Game" is more complicated than many of the ads WCAX produces. Most merchants prefer to shoot at their place of business using their own staffers as talent, but Sporn was willing to pay for actors and studio time.

The production budget: $1000. $60 an hour for the shoot and the editing. $75 and up, flat rate, for the actors. $100 for red and gold satin sheets used as backdrops. Why red satin? "We wanted the sexuality to come through," Kavanagh says, allowing that it might have been a good idea to rent a steamer, too -- to get rid of the pleats. $15 for the referee hat. The ref's jersey was free, though; Kavanagh borrowed it from his kid's football league.

The result? Hard to say. Editing was the next step, and the client still has to approve. The talent is excited at being part of the most-watched TV event of the year. "We're taping the entire Super Bowl!" vows Fitzpatrick. And who knows? If "Romance Game" scores a touchdown, you may just see it in replay -- again and again and again…

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David Warner

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