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Record rates for Super Bowl ads

– Super Bowl sponsors are touting a new rationale for the record $4 million they’re spending on some 30-second spots this year: that viewers of the most-watched U.S. TV event will turn their ads into Internet hits.

“That is absolutely a factor in the cost of the ads,” said Les Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS, which is televising the game. “The advertisers expect they’ll get a nice bump online, so it’s well worth the increase.”

Sunday’s pro football championship, which draws more than 111 million U.S. viewers, offers marketers a rare chance to make big leaps online, whether it’s increasing Twitter followers or Facebook fans.

Super Bowl advertisers bank on an extended online audience to justify and add value to their costly TV buys, said Rob Norman, chief digital officer of GroupM, the media buying unit of WPP Plc, the world’s largest ad company.

“More than ever, it’s mandatory to stretch,” Norman said in an interview.

Companies are paying CBS an average of $3.75 million for 30-second Super Bowl spots, an increase of 7.1 percent from a year earlier and the most expensive ad rate in U.S. media, according to WPP Group’s Kantar Media, an industry researcher. Some paid more than $4 million, Moonves said.

Super Bowl rates have risen about 60 percent over the past decade, underscoring the value marketers place on reaching the largest TV audience.

Last year’s game, with 78 commercials, produced ad sales of $262.5 million, according to Kantar Media.

The network plans a full day of coverage around the game, which features the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

New York-based CBS ran an online contest, letting voters choose the best commercials from past games and aired the winners in a TV special Wednesday.

Super Bowl campaigns now are designed to work across media, from TV to the Web to smartphones and tablets, said Jonathan Taplin, director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California.

“We’ve been talking about this coming for quite a time, and it does seem to finally be a reality,” Taplin said in an interview.

Coca-Cola began streaming the first part of a Super Bowl ad last week. It shows three groups, cowboys, showgirls and “bad-landers,” racing across a desert to reach a bottle of Coke.

Viewers can vote on who they want to win through the end of the game using the website, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other online services. They can vote against a group by clicking “sabotage” buttons on the contest site. The winning contingent shows up in the ad spot right after the game.

“We’re all trying to get a better return on our investment, and digital is now a necessary part of that strategy,” Pio Schunker, a senior vice president of marketing for Coca-Cola’s North America division, said.

After last year’s game, Atlanta-based Coke discovered the online audience for its ads was larger than anticipated. The company had to add servers to handle the traffic.

“Digital and social had come to the forefront in a way that we had underestimated,” Schunker said. “Based on that, we decided this time around we needed to make it much more interactive, to drive more engagement from the fans.”

For the first time this year, Twitter Inc. will let advertisers target sponsored tweets to users right after their Super Bowl commercials run. People can vote for their favorite ad within the tweet itself.

A now-standard practice among marketers is to post spots on Google’s YouTube before game day. While that seems counterproductive, YouTube says companies attract more viewers this way. Ads released before the Super Bowl generated more 9.1 million views on average, compared with 1.3 million for those appearing online the day of the game, YouTube says.

“We found that you’re more likely to remember the brand on the Super Bowl day if you saw the ad beforehand,” said Lucas Watson, YouTube’s vice president of advertising.