And Now…A Word From Our Sponsor

Some people think Super Bowl week begins the moment that the final gun from the second conference championship game is sounded.  Some of those people run NFL Network and its other media entities, where ever since that moment on January 29th they have turned their holdings into a virtual non-stop pre-game show hyping the game itself.

If you believe some pundits, however, depending upon the health of Pat Mahomes this year’s game could be over very fast, much like many of the games in the 80s were.  In fact, the first nine Super Bowls of the decade had an average margin of victory of 21 points–three full touchdowns.  Which meant an awful lot more attention was being paid to the commercials that would often serve as a more entertaining interruption for the lackluster gameplay, particularly in later quarters.

So given that history, as well as my fascination with market research, that I became an early adopter of the USA Today Ad Meter, which this year celebrates 35 years as the industry’s leading public opinion tool on what are the most expensive ad buys of the year and frequently the launching pad for new brands and campaigns that eventually become iconic.  This year’s online version dropped yesterday, with 19 of the 64 spots scheduled to run between kickoff and game’s end already uploaded and available for rating.  So since to me, that’s the first actual opportunity to watch content that will actually be part of the game, that’s my kickoff to Super Bowl week.

Ad Meter has come a long way from its humble beginnings, which was indeed little more than a larger-scale dial test session.  And as USA Today editor David Colton recounted several years back, its origins were rooted in comedy and the desire to amortize a recent investment in the prior fall’s presidential election:

All this began in the 1980s: Some may recall an Albert Brooks parody where elderly people in Miami sit in wired chairs and are told to turn a knob up or down — “I like it, I like it,” they say, or frowning, “I don’t like it, I don’t like it” — while watching TV. Our concept was the same, except it was called the Debate Meter, designed for USA TODAY’s political coverage.

Democrat Lloyd Bentsen’s debate-winning line to Vice President Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” scored especially high on our Debate Meter that year.

After the 1988 election, the concept was cleverly re-imagined to rate ads at the 1989 Super Bowl. The Ad Meter has been a part of Super Bowl Sunday ever since.

It was pretty simple: We’d bring in 300 or so pre-screened viewers to watch the game at several locations. The panelists were enticed with a small payment, a giant theater-sized screen, a knob-turning device and thick sandwiches to record their impressions of the commercials from start to finish.

They were into both the game and the ads,” recalls editor Fred Meier, who helped honcho the project from the start. “We could tell from the crowd reaction how high an ad was going to score. And we never wanted to hear them guffawing late in the third or in the fourth quarter, which would mean a potential late new leader in the ad contest.”

So, in other words, USA Today, which at the time was the cool new kid on the block when it came to sports journalism, was doing exactly what I and millions of others were doing–reacting in real time to commercials.

As technology evolved, the opportunity to make it a truly national and interactive poll was undertaken, and most game advertisers take full advantage of the chance to generate buzz, not to mention YouTube views that now are factored into their media plans when they are seen on monetizable platforms.  This year’s entries are already starting to make news and headway.  The new direction Bud Light is seeking, looking for a more inclusive and less sophomoric tone, which features celebrity couple Miles and Keleigh Teller—plus their dog, Bugsy–breaking into impromptu dancing to otherwise interminable hold music–is already “blowing up”, with several hundred thousand views and exceptionally positive reviews.

Will this approach reach the level of success that the brand achieved with three consecutive top scoring ads that emphasized the wtf comedy of these themes?

2004: Bud Light, Owners demonstrate how their dogs fetch Bud Light

2005: Bud Light, Pilot jumps out of plane for six-pack

2006: Bud Light, A secret fridge stocks Bud Light

Not sure.  But hey…you can get a head start yourself:

I’m biased, to be sure, for healthier choices, not to mention a way to keep Sony IP current.  And I happen to love Popcorners anyway.  So I’ll freely admit I’ve given this ad a 10 already:


Which also means that by watching these commercials in advance, I’ll also have the chance to actually go to the bathroom without missing anything.  USA Today initially just printed a checklist for people to follow along at home and perhaps pass out ballots at their parties, much like an Oscar party pool.  I rarely drank anything in those days, lest I miss a commercial.

Now, as my prostate has aged, I at least no longer have to worry about that.

What I do have to worry about is whether the game will be worth watching to the end.  I’m hoping Pat Mahomes is as ready as Walter White is this year.



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