Most of the companies spending up to $4 million for 30 seconds of ad time during the 2013 Super Bowl can easily afford it. Mercedes-Benz, whom you can thank for bringing Kate Upton to the big game, enjoyed record sales last year. Samsung's smartphones are so popular they're outselling the iPhone. Trendy products like Mio and SodaStream are rare hits in a marketplace of mediocrity.
But a few Super Bowl advertisers face the equivalent of third and long, on account of financial losses, customer defections, or competitive pressure they've failed to keep up with. For them, reaching out to a Super Bowl audience of perhaps 120 million people is an effort just to get back in the game. Here are seven Super Bowl advertisers that need to pick up the most yardage:
Best Buy. This electronics retailer has been losing sales to Amazon and big-box competitors like Wal-Mart and Target, while struggling to eke out a profit. The stock has jumped recently on better-than-expected holiday sales, but it's still down 36 percent over the last 12 months. A buzzy Super Bowl ad would relieve some of the gloom over Best Buy's struggles.
BlackBerry. This moribund smartphone maker just threw a Hail Mary pass by introducing the new Z10 phone, its latest and perhaps last effort to catch up to Apple and Android. Reviewers say the new phone has a chance of helping BlackBerry win back millions of lost customers—but it won't be available in the United States until mid-March, which drove down BlackBerry's stock after the Z10's introduction. Critics wonder whether consumers will even remember BlackBerry's Super Bowl ad by the time the phone is available.
Century 21. This real-estate firm's parent company, Realogy, got crushed during the housing bust that started in 2006, with seven straight years of losses totaling about $3.6 billion. Like the housing market, Realogy is now starting to rebound, with the stock up 34 percent since the company conducted a public offering last October. That makes it the right time to reach out to home buyers who might be tuning in to the Super Bowl.
E-Trade. That smart-alecky baby in its popular commercials may not know it, but this online brokerage has lost money for five of the last six years and is still struggling, despite a booming stock market. To return to profitability, E-Trade plans to slash costs and redouble efforts to hold onto customers. But skittish investors, a wobbly economy and tough new financial regulations remain risks.
Lincoln. Ford Motor Co. has revived itself under CEO Alan Mulally, with sharply lower costs and hot new models like the Escape crossover and Fusion sedan. But the Lincoln luxury division is a laggard still associated with geezers not daring enough to try a BMW or Lexus. So it's no accident that Lincoln's Super Bowl ad involves Twitter and is meant to appeal to younger buyers.
Milk producers. Why is milk vying with beer for attention during the Super Bowl? Because per-capital milk consumption has been dropping for years and is close to 30-year lows. Instead of milk, more Americans these days drink soda, bottled water and milk alternatives made from soy or other products deemed to be healthier. The latest "Got milk?" ad aims to change that.
Paramount Pictures. This struggling movie studio is desperate for a hit, which is why its Super Bowl ad for the forthcoming Star Trek movie reaches for a mainstream audience that goes far beyond hardcore Trekkies. The studio's revenue has plunged recently, with middling films such as Jack Reacher and Flight unable to make up for bombs such as Rise of the Guardians. That makes a successful Super Bowl ad a paramount priority.
Rick Newman's latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.