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Why didn’t Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl ads do better on this year’s USA Today Ad meter?

Late last night, USA Today released the full results of the 2013 Super Bowl ad meter poll and there was great news for Doritos fans; The Crash the Super Bowl winners and were ranked the #1 and #2 :30 second commercials of the game!  Unfortunately, the ad meter poll included every commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, even the 2 minute long short film/ad things.  So Fashionista Daddy actually came in 4th and Goat 4 Sale came in 7th.  Here is the official Top 10 from USA Today:


Because neither Doritos commercial made the Top 3, the winning filmmakers won’t receive any bonus money from FritoLay.  And that is a goddamn shame.  The two guys who won the Crash the Super Bowl contest this year were completely and totally robbed.  If USA Today hadn’t changed their methods and wrecked their ad meter this year I am positive that at least one Doritos finalist would have won a six or seven figure bonus.

For 24 Super Bowls in a row, USA Today conducted their ad meter poll in exact same way.  Here’s how USA Today described the process:

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 the old Ad Meter poll was a highly organized live event.  The USA Today team had people turn little dials to indicate how much they liked or disliked a commercial as it aired.  People watched the ads in real time and they only got to see them once.  They didn’t give each commercial an individual score.  Instead, a computer averaged out their dial activty.  So commercials that were exciting or funny from beginning to end always did very well.  FritoLay noticed that Crash the Super Bowl ads were actually scoring very high on the ad meter so in the fall of 2008 they offered some bonus prizes to any filmmaker who could crack the top 3.  1st place on the ad meter would get you a million dollar bonus, 2nd was good for $600K and 3rd got you $400K. Filmmakers studied the mechanics of the USA Today ad meter and they started crafting ads that would theoretically score very well in a dial-measured style focus group test.  And that plan actually paid off for a few lucky filmmakers.  At least one Crash the Super Bowl ad managed to make the Top 3 every year since 2009.  And Doritos commercials actually won the ad meter poll in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

But for the first time in 5 years, Doritos didn’t even crack the Top 3.  Actually, 2013 was a bad year for ALL the funny 30 second Super Bowl ads.  The top 10 was dominated by 60 and even 120 second(!) long sentimental or lighthearted  “cute” commercials about farmers and families that were narrated by Oprah and the ghost of Paul Harvey.

So what the heck happened?  Well it turns out that this year USA Today decided to throw their 25 year old ad meter experiment into the garbage and then they replaced the whole thing with a B.S. online poll.  Again, here’s a quote from the folks at USA Today:

In an attempt to make the Ad Meter more social, we partnered with Facebook last year, which worked out fine except it was a bit confusing to mix the panel reactions with the later Facebook results.

So this year (the 25th Annual Ad Meter!), we’ve gone totally digital, dropping the live panels and Facebook, and instead offering everyone in America the chance to sign up online and vote from their computers.

So basically the paper kept the name of the project and got rid of everything that cost them any money….and anything that gave the poll any credibility. Here are three big changes that wound up skewing the ad meter results in unexpected ways:

1.  Anybody could vote.  Instead of a few hundred participants watching each ad in a closed and controlled screening room, any random person with a web connection could vote and affect the outcome of the poll.  In total, about 7,000 people across the US voted for some or all of the ads in the poll.

2.  Viewers did not have to rate every commercial.  This was an enormous and very important change.  Voting in the online poll was actually launched BEFORE the game even started.  But the Doritos ads didn’t appear until after they aired because Doritos wanted to keep the winners a secret.  So if you voted early, you didn’t even see the Crash the Super Bowl ads.

3.  The ad meter voters were not pre-screened.  When a company wins the ad meter they get millions of dollars worth of free publicity since their commercial is shown over and over and over online and on the news.  So is it really so far-fetched to suspect that maybe some companies just hired people (or asked their employees) to give their Super Bowl commercial a high score?  As I said, only about 7,000 people voted in the online poll this year.  What if a giant billion-dollar, multinational corporation like Proctor and Gamble had sent a mass e-mail to all of their 129,000 employees asking them to sign up and vote for Tide’s Super Bowl commercial?  Even if only 500 people out of that 129,000 voted they would still have a massive impact on that commercial’s score.

4.  No more dials.  People at home don’t have dials hooked up to their computers.  So instead of rating an ad second-by-second, viewers gave each commercial an over all score on a scale of 1 to 10.  The old poll measured a participant’s instant and immediate reaction to an ad.  But the new poll gave people time to think about how much they liked each commercial.  I suspect this had an odd psychological affect on some people.  If I saw a commercial were a guy got hit in the balls I might chuckle…but then I’d feel kind of like a moron for laughing at something so low-brow.  So I suspect a lot of ad meter participants took a moment to decide how they should react to each ad rather than give an honest assessment of their actual reaction.  If Tide’s 60-second long “Miracle Stain” spot had run last year, I don’t think it would have come in 2nd on the ad meter.  That’s because it started off slowly and I think a lot of people would have been bored after 40 seconds.  But this year people watched the ad from start to finish before they made any judgments.  I think viewers decided it was cute and funny and that it was the “right kind” of ad.  I think this is the reason all these sentimental ads did so well last night.  It just felt good to give them high scores.  The commercials maybe weren’t entertaining but viewers subconsciously wanted to demonstrate that they had good taste.  So a wacky chip ad staring  a guy in a dress gets a 7 but an inspiring (but sort of confusing) Oprah-narrated ad about families deserved to get a 10 because that was a serious and maybe even an important commercial.

So the USA Today ad meter is dead and it’s never coming back.  Sure, the folks at USA Today are going to continue to parade around its corpse like it’s still real and relevant but it’s not.  In fact, USA Today apparently wants to bastardize their brand even further by running ad meter polls during other events like the Oscars. (The fact that companies don’t make special commercials for the Oscars or the All-Star game apparently doesn’t mater.)  So in the end, this just comes down to an issue of money and free publicity.  USA Today realized that the Ad Meter name was worth something so they’ve decided to make a couple bucks by running shitty online polls under the once respected Ad Meter banner.

I’m not really sure what all this means for the Crash the Super Bowl contest but I’ll be frank, I’m a little worried.  It will now be much, much harder for Dortios commercials to score a #1, #2 or #3 spot in the poll.  That means FritoLay will be getting a lot less exposure and free press out of The Crash.  I suspect that FritoLay will run the contest again next year but I also suspect they might change the terms a bit.  I really think it’s time for Doritos to start paying bonus prizes to the finalists if their ad makes it to air regardless of how they do on the ad meter.  They could still do the bonus ad meter prizes but if they guaranteed an extra $25,000 just for airing that’d be really nice.  I know that might sound like a lot of money but it’s chump change when you consider the fact that FritoLay has to pay at least  $3,000,000 to air one 30 second Super Bowl commercial.

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7 Responses to “Why didn’t Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl ads do better on this year’s USA Today Ad meter?”

  1. Joe says:

    Since Fashionista Dad got the higher rating between the two, that means he gets to work with Michael Bay, correct?

  2. Marge Cramer says:

    What a joke . Dorito’s, you don’t even know what the rules are going into the contest shame on dorito’s For running a lame contest. ROAD CHIP was by far the funniest ( I am a dog lover) and everyone I showed the video to thought it was great. I hope the guy that made this one gets a contract working with someone that appreciates his talents and I wish him The very best . We really enjoy watching that one . The little girl and the dog were wonderful.

  3. Joel says:

    Sorry Beardy, but I don’t think you get to have this both ways. You’re obviously a pretty liberal dude from previous posts, and you’re upset because instead of having 300 secret people in a room choose this stuff, they opened the forum to the public? Not me. Imagine how you would feel if the MPAA ratings system was public instead of just being done in secret the way it is?

    Anyway, the clydesdale video really was spectacular, I genuinely believe (based on the fact that within 10 hours of it being posted on youtube it had over 6 million views) that millions of people thought it was amazing and instantly went to their computers to see it again. Let’s not hate on that, it was a great piece of creation.

  4. Beardy says:

    Joel, I guess I should have been clearer about a few things. first, I thought the Clydesdale as was great and it deserved 1st place. The rest of the top 10 was pretty mediocre but I guess so where most of the commercials this year. That Tide commercial was pretty lame and I don’t know how anybody could have liked it.

    Anyway, you better than anyone should know that public online votes are a joke. This wasn’t some big democratic, nationwide poll. Only about 7,000 people voted which means that almost no one knew the vote was even happening. So I suspect that a lot of the voters had some kind of connection to companies that produced super bowl ads. Even the Doritos finalists were asking their friends and fans to sign up and vote if their ad aired. I couldn’t believe they were allowed to do that. The new Ad Meter is just as dumb and meaningless now as any contest where votes determine the winner. The poll results were announced just a few hours after the game which means no one took any time to see if there had been any cheating. A team of 10 interns at Budweiser HQ could have created 100s of fake accounts and used them to rate the Clydesdale ad a 10 over and over. A few hundred perfect scores would be enough to change the outcome of the vote. And that’s why polls like this are only credible if they happen in secret rooms with prescreened people (AKA Judges.)

  5. Joel says:

    I absolutely agree that a public vote is a terrible thing like this. But I also certainly thing that picking 300 people to choose their favorites any given year is a terrible thing, when there are literally 100 million people watching the superbowl.

    The real way would be to develop an advanced algorithm that weighs everything from social media mentions, to view count online, to amount of google searches for a title in the moment after it airs, to a measure of how memorable it was a week later and more. But since that’s never going to happen, who cares if it’s this sham instead of the other.

    Why not just let incredibly prolific and successful Michael Bay choose which one he thinks is best and give it a million dollars. Do you not think they could have gotten a ton of publicity just from having a ceremony where Michael Bay hands some shmo 1 million dollars for his superbowl video?

  6. Bgoodie says:

    Its 300 in multiple cities.. I thought 3 cities.

    AND you didn’t mention that you know that the Doritos contestants got their 200-600 people to sign up and vote a “1″ for all others except for theirs a “10″ .. which is not a true voting pattern to measure. I would have thrown out all votes like that… all votes that are all 1s or 10s … etc. to have a more true vote.. but AdMeter doesn’t care about statistics.

    If Bill Gates walks into a bar, on average, everybody in the bar is a millionaire.

  7. Tom says:

    Members of the Fashionista Daddy team are the same people that begged for votes on Sling Baby last year while telling people to vote down Man’s Best Friend. The changes to the USA Today ad meter made it even easier to do this year.

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