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COMPUTING's Super Bowl ads pay off in a big way

February 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:25 p.m. EST (2325 GMT)

by Paul McNamara

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- CEO Jeff Taylor made two big bets on the Super Bowl. The first was spending $4 million for three 30-second TV ads that he hoped would make his electronic job-search business a household name.

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The second was buying $700,000 worth of new network muscle 30 Dell servers and a T-3 pipe to prevent that name from becoming mud.

Taylor claims to have won big-time on both scores, as's traffic last week shattered previous highs with nary a hiccup on the network.

"There's been no second-guessing at all about our decision," says Taylor, whose Maynard, Mass., company employs 305 people and earned $40 million last year. "It's one of the best decisions that we've made."

However, at least one Internet expert questions the long-term revenue returns on such an enormous investment.

"Four million dollars is a lot of change for a single event," contends Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, Calif.

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"A lot of the reason to do the Super Bowl ads for the smaller companies is to say, 'Look at us, we're on the Super Bowl,' as opposed to really thinking through the business justification." executives beg to differ, even though the Super Bowl buy has consumed 15% to 18% of this year's marketing budget.

The Web site hosts more than one million resumes and lists 173,000 jobs. Prior to the Super Bowl, it had been averaging five million visitors per month and 600 job searches per minute, according to Taylor. The latter measurement considered most crucial.

"At 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m., after the Super Bowl was over, we were doing almost 2,900 job searches per minute," he says. That spike leveled off to 1,500 later in the week, still 400 per minute more than the pre-Super Bowl high.

Prepping for the onslaught involved seven IT staffers, led by Director of Development Jonathan Lynch, who three days after the big test was promoted to vice president of IS for research and development.

"One thing I've learned in the past year doing all this work on the World Wide Web is that you can never really over-prepare for something like this," Lynch says. "We figured out what we would need and then we doubled it."

In the month prior to the Super Bowl, installed 30 top-of-the-line Dell PowerEdge 6300 servers to more than double a base of 20 Web, database and back-end messaging servers. The additional T-3 connection more than tripled the capacity of the company's 12 existing T-1s, giving a total of about 60M bit/sec of bandwidth to the Internet at its Indianapolis facility.

Consumption peaked at about 35M bit/sec just after's ads were televised.

"It's really important to keep [use of available] bandwidth to the Internet below 50%," Lynch says. "Once it starts going above 50%, you start getting a lot of retransmissions and itís just not good for the servers."

The company has already ordered another T-3.

In addition to the hardware and bandwidth, Lynch's team upgraded the company's network load-balancing capabilities with a pair of Hydra 5000 hardware/software appliances from HydraWeb of New York.

"The Hydra 5000 offers us up to three million concurrent connections," Lynch says. "We certainly didn't want that to be the bottleneck, which it's not going to be with that many available connections." wasn't alone in peddling online job searches Super Bowl Sunday. A fledgling competitor,, spent about $2 million for 30 seconds of airtime, two new servers and part of a T-3 connection.

While Hotjobs reported a fivefold increase in traffic after the game, its upgraded network buckled under the strain, causing some downtime and delays significant enough to prompt an online apology from CEO Richard Johnson.

"We're the only Internet site that advertised on the Super Bowl that didn't crash because of the added traffic," boasts Bill Warren,'s president.

Water cooler buzz and post-game media chatter are also important measures of a Super Bowl ad's success, experts say. appears to have scored well here, too.

"Part of the challenge is [getting consumers to] remember the ads, as well as what they were selling," says Craig Koller, a multimedia designer for CCH, Inc., in Torrance, Calif. "I remember the ad and liked its Dilbert-esque appeal.

The ad was shot in black-and-white and featured a series of children saying things like, "When I grow up . . . I want to be a yes-man," and " . . . forced into early retirement." The message: Find a better job at

Taylor says itís too early to know whether the lasting impact of the Super Bowl ads will justify making a similar investment next January. But he does sound like a probable repeat customer.

"At $53,000 a second, why not?" Taylor asks.

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