February 5, 2007 4:37 PM PST

Super Bowl ad lets Salesgenie.com out of bottle

Before Super Bowl Sunday, InfoUSA was known primarily among sales people as an unassuming provider of databases of names and numbers to direct marketers. But after an ad for its Salesgenie.com product ran during the game, Joe Six-Pack knows about the company, too.

The ad, which aired four times, and a pregame sponsorship cost the company $3.7 million, representing about 5 percent to 10 percent of the ad budget for its Salesgenie product. That was a "big gamble," said InfoUSA COO Monica Messer said Monday.

"We are a public company, responsible and accountable for profitability to our shareholders, so it was a huge risk for us," said Messer, whose Omaha, Neb.-based company does more than $640 million in annual sales.

Apparently it paid off. "We had more than 30,000 people come to our Web site last night. It has brought as much traffic to our site and generated as many new trials for the product in one day as it takes to generate in an entire month," she said. "The phones were just ringing off the hook last night. Today, there were over 2,100 phone calls and an additional 25,000 views of the commercial on YouTube."

And Salesgenie.com's Web site market share rose more than 500 percent after the Super Bowl ads ran, according to Web traffic monitor Hitwise. It was the third highest market share rise among the Super Bowl advertisers, after King Pharmaceuticals and Budweiser, Hitwise said.

They may be watching it, but are they liking it?

"I kept waiting for the punchline...and it never came. It was like a cheesy SNL parody," wrote one commentator on YouTube. "Was this a college course marketing class project? (no disrespect to the undergrads). 'How to blow 2 million in 30 seconds.' Inexcusably bad."

The Salesgenie.com ad was rated the least popular on USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter.

And Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield gave the ad two stars out of five, calling it "so monumentally brainless and amateurish it actually attracts attention--i.e., is this really a Super Bowl ad??? No problem. The 'Glengarry Glen Ross' crowd won't downgrade for insipidness."

"There has got to be more about it than just people watching it because there is so much clutter during the game," said Matt Creamer, editor at large at Advertising Age magazine who called the Salesgenie.com a "low-rent ad."

But Messer laughingly dismisses the criticism, saying the ad was designed not to entertain the masses but to deliver a targeted message to a specific niche of workers, or in industry parlance, to generate sales leads. "We wanted to define a problem, show a solution and show what sales people are interested in, and it totally worked," she said, adding that even being the worst ad brings buzz. "There is no better media than the Super Bowl to try to capture those 90 million eyeballs in one night."

The ad shows a successful sports car-driving salesman winning adoration from a beautiful woman and his boss, and envy from co-workers for being able to golf instead of slaving at the office.

"It's a straightforward approach to greed," said Gene DeWitt, president of DeWitt Media Strategies, an advertising planner and consultant. "Apparently, the commercial really resonated with people."

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