Small firm could win an ad in Big Game

Intuit Inc. contest winner gets spot during Super Bowl

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NEW YORK — A small business star will be born during a commercial break in Super Bowl XLVIII.

A company will have its own 30-second ad during the game, giving it the kind of exposure usually reserved for mega-brands such asBudweiser and Chevrolet. The spot will be the culmination of a competition sponsored by software maker Intuit Inc., which has never run a Super Bowl commercial of its own, but is paying for one small business to be in the spotlight during the third quarter.

"This is the sort of thing that small businesses dream about," says Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

There's also some risk. Small businesses often don't have the capacity to handle the kind of exposure that the winner is bound to get. The company will need to be prepared to handle the sudden surge in business it might get from the ad. Intuit, which makes software for small businesses says that ability will be one of the criteria companies must meet to make it to the final stages of the competition.

The Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers in February was seen by 108.4 million people.

Super Bowl commercials are a "can you top that" showcase for advertising agencies, which try to come up with the funniest and most memorable ads. The commercials have become as a big a deal as the game and the halftime show. Viewers tweet their reactions and post comments on Facebook during the game.

"The advertising is entertainment in and of itself," says Sheri Bridges, an associate professor of marketing at Wake Forest University's School of Business.

The small business spot will be created by RPA, an advertising agency that has produced past Super Bowl commercials.

RPA says it expects to create the same kind of high-quality production for the competition winner as it does for big corporate clients. But unlike Super Bowl commercials that are designed to make viewers laugh or feel intense emotions, this commercial will also have to be about the company and what it does.

"We're going to be doing something more rooted in the business and who they are, rather than just catching eyeballs," says Adam Lowery, a creative director at RPA.

Some companies have been launched into the public's consciousness by Super Bowl ads. In 1984, Apple was not yet a giant when it ran what's considered the gold standard of Super Bowl ads, a spot that created buzz about the upcoming introduction of the Macintosh.

"Many people point to Apple's Mac ad as a sort of the perfect example of what a Super Bowl ad can do, and it really did give the brand an enormous amount of attention and momentum," Calkins says.

Any small business can enter. In the first round, companies will sign up at SmallBusinessBigGame.com and tell their stories. The public votes on who advances to the next round. The 50,000 companies with the most votes continue telling their stories, with Intuit employees voting for the 20 best. Four of those will become finalists chosen by Intuit employees; the public will choose the winning company.

Intuit will pay for the commercial, which will run into the millions of dollars. Thirty-second spots cost as much as $4 million.