Heinz will air ketchup ad during this year's Super Bowl

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The H.J. Heinz Co. will be back in the big game, even if the Steelers will not.

The Pittsburgh food company announced Tuesday that it plans to show a 30-second commercial during this year's Super Bowl, a global event that traditionally draws masses of viewers no matter which NFL teams end up playing.

Half a minute of commercial time during the Feb. 2 game is running about $4 million and available slots sold out months ago, according to trade publication Adweek. The marketing industry regularly debates whether the premium time is worth the price, yet every year brands return to the event in the belief that it will help them make a splash.

Heinz noted, in its announcement Tuesday, that it has not participated in the Super Bowl extravaganza in 16 years and this will only be the brand's second appearance ever.

Anheuser-Busch is a regular advertiser during the championship football game and is expected to return this year. Private equity investor 3G Capital, which is part of the joint venture that acquired Heinz for more than $28 billion last year, is also an investor in the beer company.

Since the sale of the Pittsburgh food company closed in June, CEO Bernardo Hees has installed a new management team and trimmed office jobs -- including 350 in the Pittsburgh area. The company also announced plans to shift production in North America, closing three plants and eliminating 1,350 positions in the process.

Buying a Super Bowl spot signals that management doesn't expect to make the investment in the Pittsburgh company pay off through cuts alone. Reinvigorating sales in North America is among the bigger challenges that the company faces. Much of the recent sales growth has come in emerging markets abroad.

"Heinz's participation in the Super Bowl is an opportunity to remind consumers of the love they have for this iconic brand," said Bill Ulrick, senior brand manager for Heinz North America, in a prepared statement. "The commercial investment is part of a larger effort to renew our commitment to engage with our great fans."

The 30-second spot is part of a campaign in which customers are being asked to enter photos with their favorite Heinz product. They'll compete for one of five grand prize trips to championship sporting events over the next year.

The company declined to offer more detail on the commercial, which was created by Heinz's agency of record, Chicago-based Cramer-Krasselt.

Fan participation has worked for Heinz before. Several years ago, a contest spurred the creation of thousands of 30-second commercials made by fans, an indication of both the appeal of prizes and the well-known brand.

Teresa Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com 412-263-2018.


Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018. First Published January 7, 2014 2:03 PM

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