By SUZANNE VRANICA
Last year Gildan Activewear Inc., a Montreal-based T-shirt manufacturer, spent about $1 million on advertising in the U.S. On Sunday, it will spend nearly four times that amount for just one spot on television's biggest event—the Super Bowl.
Gildan is one of a handful of lesser-known marketers that every year roll the dice with huge bets on the big game in hopes that exposure to the huge audience—a record 111 million people last year—will raise their public profiles.
A spot on the broadcast isn't cheap. This year, 30 seconds of ad time during the game, which is being broadcast by CBS Corp.'s CBS network, is selling for about $3.8 million, up from the $3.5 million the same time fetched last year, according to media buyers.
Gildan's Super Bowl buy is part of a bigger $25 million marketing push aimed at making the company a consumer retail brand. "We are the 800-pound gorilla in T-shirt distribution" but to consumers "we are the best-kept secret and we have to let the secret out of the bag," said Rob Packard, vice president of marketing at Gildan, which competes against Hanes and Fruit of the Loom and also owns Gold Toe socks.
Other advertising newcomers this year include SodaStream International Ltd., an Israeli company that makes home soda machines and which during the first nine months of 2012 spent just $7 million on U.S. ads, according to WPP PLC's Kantar Media.
A bigger marketer, but one also new to the big game, is BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., which said Friday it will air a Super Bowl spot to promote its new operating system, Blackberry 10, due to be unveiled on Wednesday. The Waterloo, Ontario, company spent $148 million on U.S. ads in 2011 and $58.7 million during the first nine months of 2012, according to Kantar.
The rookies will go head to head with perennial Super Bowl advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, PepsiCo Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., which often run multiple spots and spend millions of dollars enlisting celebrities and employing special effects.
Other big-spending marketers appearing in this year's broadcast include some that jump in and out of the game, depending on their marketing plans. These include Daimler AG's Mercedes, which is using three celebrities in its spot, including model Kate Upton; Best Buy Co., which has enlisted comedian Amy Poehler; and Kraft Foods Inc.'s Mio will feature comedian Tracy Morgan.
The Super Bowl's attraction is simple: It is one of the rare things on TV that large audiences watch live. Last year's Super Bowl XLVI was the most-watched U.S. telecast of all time, according to Nielsen.
For the newbies, particularly those spending big chunks of their marketing budget, the risks are high. In 2008, Under Armour Inc.'s stock plunged after the Baltimore athletic-apparel maker disclosed buying a 60-second Super Bowl ad, which represented a large chunk of the company $16 million annual ad spend at the time. The stock rebounded after the company explained that its marketing spending wasn't increasing.
The other worry is the enormous amount of scrutiny that Super Bowl ads now come under—thanks in part to the growing number of polls that survey reactions to the ads, along with the ability of consumers to criticize the ads on social-media sites. While the attention can be good, it also can magnify any missteps in the ads. In 2011, for instance, consumers complained on social-media sites that an ad from Groupon Inc., which included references to Tibet, was insensitive.
"We know we are going to be scrutinized by everybody. You have to have nerves of steel," Mr. Packard said.
Gildan, a publicly traded company with $1.95 billion in annual sales, has already encountered an issue with its spot. In the ad, created by New York ad agency DeVito/Verdi, a young man wakes up wearing handcuffs and tries to figure out how to get his favorite T-shirt off the woman who is asleep in the bed. The company put the spot through extensive online testing, showing it to "hundreds" of consumers. But CBS asked the company to re-edit the spot to be less provocative, Gildan said.
CBS didn't respond to a request for comment.
SodaStream had an even tougher experience. It had to replace the ad it planned to use—a riff on a popular Pepsi Super Bowl ad that featured Pepsi and Coke truck drivers—after the spot was rejected last week by CBS, SodaStream said. A spokeswoman for CBS declined to comment on its reasons.
The ad was devised by Alex Bogusky, the well-known creative executive who made headlines several years ago with ads for companies such as Burger King and Microsoft.
"We are trying to take it to a more provocative level and we probably went too far for Super Bowl standards," said Ilan Nacasch, SodaStream's chief marketing officer.
Instead, for the Super Bowl, SodaStream is tweaking an older spot that has aired previously. The spot shows bottles of soda spontaneously combusting every time someone uses the SodaStream machine. The message: SodaStream is a more environmentally friendly way to drink soda. The ad was banned in the U.K. for denigrating the soft-drink industry—helping to generate publicity for SodaStream.
Write to Suzanne Vranica at [email protected]
A version of this article appeared January 28, 2013, on page B1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Newbie Advertisers Take a Super Bowl Shot.