Tiny Dot-com Joins Super Bowl

Super Bowl XXXIV AP

Remember HotJob's bold advertising maneuver last year during the Super Bowl? Other dot-coms - along with an unknown startup - are in the lineup for this year's big game. Will the gamble pay off. CBS MarketWatch's Steve Gelsi has this commentary.
As dot-coms swarm the Super Bowl like linemen blitzing quarterbacks, tiny startup OurBeginning.com wins the obscurity award.

Of all the Internet-related companies to blast the airwaves in front of the beer-swilling masses, the Orlando, Fla.-based seller of online stationery is probably the tiniest.

It's shelling out a big $4 million - roughly four times its 1999 revenue - to air five, 30-second ads during The Greatest Commercial TV Event of the Year. When asked by Wired magazine if this was a good idea, one of the company's founders said its investors were "ecstatic."

While OurBeginning.com ad play may seem like a Hail Mary pass, it could also signal the start of a touchdown drive early in the game, crazily enough.

Look at HotJobs.com, which spent $2 million - half its 1998 revenue - for a spot on the Super Bowl last year. The move generated a huge buzz, more from the mountains of press it got rather than the ad itself.

The employment Web site rode the wave all the way to an initial public offering last August at $8 per share. Now it's trading at 33. With success stories like that, it's no wonder that OurBeginning.com is suiting up to trot into the Super Bowl field.

And it's far from alone. This year there's a big parade of dot-coms starting with the return of HotJobs and rival Monster.com; plus Britanica.com, AutoTrader.com, Computer.com, E-Trade, Healtheon, KForce.com, LifeMinders.com, Netpliance.com, OnMoney.com and Pets.com.

It'll be a challenge just to keep the names straight. If the ads work, expect an initial public offering from any of the privately held .coms.

Brand strength seems to be the new test for IPOs, instead of financial strength - but that's another story. Meanwhile, Disney's ABC Network made dot-coms pay up front for their Super Bowl media time. No use taking any chances. If the TV network was really greedy, though, it'd ask for stock.

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Commentary by Steve Gelsi, a reporter for CBS MarketWatch
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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