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Internet site takes super gamble on Super Bowl
Ads cost 5 times what the firm earned last year

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Michael Budowski watched from the sidelines as almost a dozen actresses in wedding gowns and veils began pushing, shoving and pulling each other's hair on a studio set made to look like a bridal shop.

Budowski, founder and CEO of Orlando-based OurBeginning.com, chuckled as he turned his attention to the action unfolding on several television monitors in front of him. The Super Bowl commercial being filmed for his online invitation and stationery company was just what he wanted -- something funny enough to grab viewers' attention.The commercial better rivet viewers when it airs during the third quarter of the Super Bowl on Jan. 30. Budowski is gambling the fortunes of his less-than-a-year-old company on the momentum the ad will generate.

OurBeginning.com, which sells wedding invitations, announcements for special occasions and stationery, began operating last spring and isn't expected to make a profit for at least another year.

The cost of a Super Bowl package that includes one commercial during the game, four ads before the game and an exclusive sponsorship of a 30-minute pregame program is approaching $5 million, or about five times 1999 sales for the company.

For Budowski, the price is worth it.

"The Super Bowl is once a year, and it's a way to catapult us," Budowski said. "I don't think we can find a larger audience."

Unlike last year, when only a couple of Internet companies bought Super Bowl ads, dot-com advertisers have reserved more than 20 percent of the 61 30-second ad slots, said Jerry Solomon, who buys commercial time for clients of New York-based SFM Media.

"Last year, there were a couple of dot-com companies and they stood out," Solomon said. "Now you have so many competing with each other, they may all blend together."

Among the dot-com advertisers are the pet supply retailer Pets.com, technology adviser Computer.com, women's Web site Oxygen Media, online broker E-Trade and the jobs sites KForce.com, Monster.com and Hotjobs.com.

Dot-coms haven't totally edged out more traditional companies. Other advertisers in the Super Bowl this year include Anheuser-Busch, Federal Express, Visa, Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola.

The pressure to get a message across is much greater for the dot-com companies than traditional advertisers, such as Anheuser-Busch. For many, it will be their first exposure to a national audience, and they have only one shot to establish their name in the minds of viewers, Solomon said.

OurBeginning.com may stand out from the crowd because it's selling products that appeal to women during a male-dominated football event, he said.

"The key is how effective the creative message is," Solomon said. "At the end of the game, somebody must remember what they've seen."

Viewers might not learn from the commercials what products OurBeginning.com sells, but that's fine with Budowski as long as the ads lure viewers to the company's Web site.

During the Super Bowl pregame, four OurBeginning.com ads will feature a town crier who makes announcements at ungodly hours in 18th century England and a townsman who exacts his revenge.

"It's slapstick. It's timeless," said Mitch Gorshin, creative director for Disney i.d.e.a.s., which is producing the spots.

The "Angry Brides" spot that will air during the Super Bowl features marauding maidens in a bridal shop.

"If we're not over the edge and super funny, it's not the Super Bowl," said Shirley Decker, development director for Disney i.d.e.a.s. All the spots were filmed using production facilities at Walt Disney World.

The cost of producing the commercials was originally budgeted for between $3.5 million and $4 million. But the cost went up after ABC rejected a story line that would have shown more fighting and some scenes had to be reworked.

And there are other costs

Budowski is forking over $1.5 million to upgrade the OurBeginning.com Web site to handle a hoped-for surge in post-Super Bowl traffic flow. He has purchased new equipment and relocated the Web site's operations to Virginia because Florida can't handle the bandwidth needed for the amount of traffic he expects. The Web site currently gets about 10,000 visitors a day, a figure Budowski expects to increase 10-fold after the Super Bowl.