During the late '90s and early 2000s, the Internet Startup dot-com bubble was in full effect. Investors and venture capitalists itching to become the next overnight success invested in companies that failed to provide usable services—which led to losing millions—and in turn, they fell apart or collapsed. But before the bubble burst, many companies spent millions to air 30-second commercials during the Super Bowl to gain national exposure. Here are a few of them.
A site that sold and delivered retail pet supplies, Pets.com built a profile by buying national ads during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Super Bowl XXXIV, which cost the company $1.2 million. Comic actor Michael Ian Black voiced the Pets.com sock puppet mascot.
To stay competitive and build a loyal customer base, Pets.com sold pet supplies at cheaper prices than the products' retail costs, and the company burned through $30 million of investment capital before calling it quits in November 2000.
OnMoney.com's main mission was to provide usable and easy tricks to sort through and manage your financial statements. The company boasted that it had quick and easy methods that would allow users to learn how to be fiscally responsible. Ironically, OnMoney.com wasted a majority of its money on a glitzy $30 million national ad campaign that culminated with Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000. While the commercial claimed easy access to their website, the truth was that OnMoney.com didn’t spend enough money to build a functional and usable website, which was still labeled “beta” by the time the commercial aired during the Big Game. The site, once a subsidiary of TDAmeritrade, saw its functionalities integrated into Ameritrade's Personal Finance Center in 2001.
Founded in 1999, Netpliance was a company that manufactured inexpensive Internet appliances—small and cheap computers that were only used for Internet browsing. The company sold their i-Opener web browser machine for $99 at a loss. The actual retail price of the Internet appliance was believed to be somewhere between $300 and $400. The company didn't intend to make money on its hardware; instead, the idea was that Netpliance.com would turn a profit selling Internet subscriptions to access the web.
During Super Bowl XXXIV, Netpliance spent millions on a 30-second ad that announced to the world that logging on to “cyberspace” didn’t mean owning a computer. Almost a year later, in November 2000, the company quit making Internet appliances and licensed their technology to AT&T and Earthlink, who helped provide Internet access to the company’s customers. In 2002, Netpliance folded altogether.
The startup company Lifeminders.com advertised “personalized” email, which included relevant news, entertainment, sports, and lifestyle stories that appealed to you. The service would aggregate all of this information in one digestible daily email. At its height, Lifeminders.com boasted 18 million subscribers and was estimated to be worth $60 million.
In 1999, a few months after the company went public, it aired a self-proclaimed “Worst Ad on the Super Bowl” during Super Bowl XXXIV, featuring typewriter text against a yellow background while "Chopsticks" played simply throughout the ad. In 2001, it was acquired by the Herndon, Virginia-based Cross Media Marketing Corp. The website now hosts nothing but ads.
Founded in September 1999, Epidemic.com was an Internet service that sought to simulate viral marketing by "[paying] consumers to attach links to Internet businesses on their outgoing email," according to CNet. The Denver-based startup spent $1.6 million on a 30-second commercial that aired during Super Bowl XXXIV in January 2000. Epidemic.com burned through its first round of private investment money, $7.6 million, in less than a year, and folded in June 2000.
The online personalized stationery store Ourbeginning.com experienced some growth in web traffic after it premiered its 30-second commercial during Super Bowl XXXIV. The online retailer spent upwards of $4 million of its $15 million advertisement budget for Super Bowl commercials in the year 2000. The site was out of its original founders' hands by 2002, and now re-directs users to a daycare center in Seattle, Washington.
7. Just For Feet
During Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999, athletic shoes and sportswear retailers Just For Feet aired a very controversial 30-second commercial. The ad featured a group of white men tracking a barefoot Kenyan runner through the African savanna. The men give the runner some water spiked with a sedative that makes him pass out. When the runner awakens, he finds a pair of new running shoes on his feet, as he runs away trying to shake off the new shoes.
The ad generated backlash against Just For Feet with accusations that the retailers were racist and “appallingly insensitive.” Just For Feet filed a lawsuit against the ad agency responsible for the commercial, which was later dropped. The company also filed for Chapter 7 protection in 2003 and eventually closed its doors in 2004, as a result of accounting fraud.
Telecommunications company Qualcomm developed the technology that allowed the transmission of audio, video, and data to portable devices such as personal TVs and mobile phones. Qualcomm branded the personal streaming service as FloTV and began selling devices for the service in 2007. With a struggling subscription base, Qualcomm launched a “Hail Mary” for Super Bowl XLV in the form of a 30-second commercial in 2010. Despite 111 million viewers tuning in to Fox to watch the Big Game, FloTV called it quits the following March.