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Super Bowl ads cost millions and get criticized for being so expensive, but companies looking for a quick boost in their stock price might want to look at buying commercial time during next year's game.

Researchers at the University of Colorado believe they have discovered an uptick in stock prices that happens a few weeks before kickoff each year, which is directly related to the companies who buy advertising.

A study of the stock prices for 279 publicly traded companies between 1989 and 2003 has revealed that, on average, companies who don't normally buy commercials during the Super Bowl get an unexplained bump in their stock price when they wade into the advertising spectacle.

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Many of the returns won't make investors rich, but some of the jumps are significant. Across the entire field of companies studied, news that a company is spending big cash on a Super Bowl ad leads to an average increase of 1 per cent in the stocks, the study found. However, some companies have seen bigger increases of nearly 15 per cent.

Once the regular fluctuations over the previous 90 days are removed from the stock price, the trend becomes evident enough to suggest the game plays a role in the psychology of investors, said Eric Hughson, a finance professor at the University of Colorado who worked on the study.

"For companies whose advertising announcements are not expected, those firms experience positive stock price reactions on average," Mr. Hughson said. "It's not the most gigantic thing you've ever seen [for some] But I would say it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."

The report -- titled Touchdown or Fumble -- is an attempt to determine the value of a Super Bowl ad beyond the direct impact of a commercial on consumer behaviour. More U.S. households tune into the game than any other sporting event and a 30-second spot on CBS this year costs $2.6-million (U.S.).

In the past, several non-regular advertisers have enjoyed increases during the two-day period after their plans for a Super Bowl commercial were announced, Mr. Hughson said. Reebok International Ltd. rose 5.1 per cent in 1992, while E*Trade Group Inc. jumped 14.7 per cent in the dot-com boom of 1999. However, regular advertisers such as PepsiCo Inc. and Anheuser-Busch Cos., don't experience any Super Bowl bump.

Market watchers are skeptical though. One New York analyst who follows Coca-Cola Co. said he doesn't expect to see any meaningful movement in the stock even though the soft-drink giant is returning to the Super Bowl after an eight-year advertising hiatus.

"It's not fundamentally driven," said the analyst, who spoke about the report on condition of anonymity. "I certainly wouldn't look at something like that."

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The results this year are mixed. Coke's shares were flat in the two days after its announcement. However, Cadbury Schweppes, which bought ads for its Snapple drink brand this year, got a 1.5-per-cent bump during the same period after its campaign was unveiled. The shares have since climbed 6.2 per cent.

First-time advertiser King Pharmaceuticals Inc., a manufacturer of blood-pressure drugs, gained 3.1 per cent over the first two days after the news, while Gamin Ltd., a maker of GPS equipment, rose 2.3 per cent.

On the losing side was Diamond Foods Inc., which has never had much luck with the big game. The maker of Emerald Nuts saw its stock drop 5.4 per cent, and fell 2.2. per cent last year after its Super Bowl ads were announced. The shares fell 5.4 per cent before last year's Super Bowl ad, its first as a publicly traded company.

Lisa Kramer, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Toronto who studies investor psychology, said the Super Bowl effect may stem from a belief by investors that companies are confident. That point, raised as a possible explanation in the Colorado study, indicates such announcements are viewed as a signal of good times, whether true or not.

"Investors don't have the same information that managers have access to," Ms. Kramer said. "So when the managers decide to place a Super Bowl ad, as soon as that information is released to the public, all of a sudden the public realizes, 'Wow, if managers are willing to spend $2-million on an ad, they must know more about their future product's prospects than we investors know.' "

The Super Bowl effect

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List includes companies who did not advertise during the game the previous three years. The increase covers the day after those companies announced publicly they were buying Super Bowl ads.

1992 Reebok Int. Ltd. 5.1% gain
1997 C.N.S. INC. 6.7%
1998 Iomega Corp. 5.3%
1999 T.M.P. Worldwide Inc. 6.2%
1999 Siebel Systems Inc. 9.8%
1999 E* Trade Group Inc. 14.7%
2000 Healtheon Corp. 7.3%
2000 Blockbuster Inc. 9.3%
2001 T.M.P. Worldwide Inc. 6.3%

SOURCE: UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO

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