Ad Finitum

The official start time of Super Bowl LVIII isn’t until 3:30 PM Pacific Standard Time Sunday.  Even the official pre-game shows on ESPN, CBS and NFL Network don’t start until 6 AM.

But for me, who loves to watch every bit of content connected to the game, my pre-game has already started.

Yesterday, USA TODAY kicked off its 36th AD METER Competition, an event I’m proud to say I’m a charter member of.  Back in 1989 when this first started, the internet was in its infancy, and the physical newspaper was truly colorful and substantial.  It was a down year for my teams, and I needed the distraction.  There was a paper ballot you could fill out to rate the commercials on a 1-10 scale.  The work colleagues I watched the game in a lavish Houston hotel suite with saw it as something like an Oscar pool.  Nobody won anything, but it did give some of us pause to see if we’d sacrifice our pee breaks for the commercials or for a lull in game play.  I chose the latter early on, but as the game got better (that was the one where the 49ers rallied to edge the upstart Cincinnati Bengals 20-16 on John Taylor’s late score) I challenged my bladder to behave.  Thank God the game didn’t go to overtime.

These days, it’s a much more interactive and longer-term event, much to the happiness of the sponsors who benefit from additional exposure, let alone buzz, in having their YouTube spots and bonus content seen well in advance of the actual game, more than likely with less distractions than most people tend to have watching live.  And at a reported $7M for a 30 second spot, even with a potential live-plus-same day audience that could be north of 120 million viewers, those brands need every bit of help they can get.

Yesterday’s drop featured 25 different :30s and :60s, many of which had been teased via news stories, particularly those featuring celebrities.  And as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Suzanne Vranica explained, that’s not an accident:

More than 40% of commercials shown during last year’s game featured multiple celebrities, iSpot.tv data shows, a nearly sixfold increase from 2010.

This year is expected to be no different. Many star-studded commercials have already been released, including a Michelob Ultra spot featuring Lionel Messi, Jason Sudeikis and Dan Marino, and a BetMGM ad starring Tom Brady, Vince Vaughn and Wayne Gretzky.  Brands are leaning more on celebrities because there is “so much pressure to break out,” said Allen Adamson, a branding strategist. Celebrities help advertisers get noticed and help them tap in to the buzz on social media, “because people will share that sort of thing more than they will share a product story,” he added.

The celebrities, some pop culture icons, some current stars seeking wider exposure, are almost all being utilized in ways that allow their humorous sides to be shown, even those not normally associated with it.  I absolutely guarantee the beach song for spring break in South Florida this year will be CUANDO CUANDO CUANDO; one you see the Michelob spot, you’ll know why.  Two different spots both used WHAT A FEELING from FLASHDANCE as their inspiration.  Who knew Aquaman could sing?  For now, my personal favorites are the “reunion” of Ross and Rachel in Uber Eats’ celebrity-packed spot (Jelly Roll is far funnier). Kate McKinnon’s Hellman’s spot that introduces us to Mayo Cat, otherwise known as the latest to break poor Pete Davidson’s heart, and the Jenna Ortega-fronted DORITOS spot for their new flavor my stomach couldn’t possibly tolerate, but I strongly believe will make the two abuela heroines of the spot, character actresses Patricia Mauceri and Olivia Negron, who play the eponymous Dina and Mita, global stars in their own right.  Or at least worthy of a cameo on Saturday Night Live.

In the coming days, the balance of those spots will trickle in; per AD METER’s running total, there will be a total of 60 that qualify as in-game spots, though that number is sometimes fluid.  Some actually don’t show up in queue until the game itself; some years, that’s meant I have some catch up to do during the post-game, since it is legitimate market research.  BUSINESS WIRE reinforces that reality with these nuggets:

(T)hrough February 12 at 1 a.m. EST, registered Ad Meter participants can log in, watch and rate this year’s Super Bowl commercials to determine their favorites and ultimately, this year’s Ad Meter winner. Each participant must rate all Ad Meter-eligible Super Bowl advertisements for their submission to count. The 2024 Super Bowl Ad Meter winner will be announced live on CBS Mornings and at admeter.usatoday.com the morning of February 12.

Collegiate marketing and advertising students from Marist CollegeMontclair State UniversityMiddle Tennessee State UniversityHofstra University and Holyoke Community College will also participate and rate the national commercials on the Ad Meter platform, while also making notes of what they liked, didn’t like, weighing in on what worked, and what missed. These students will select their top 5 and bottom 5 commercials and these results will be published in an article with post-Super Bowl coverage. 

USA TODAY Ad Meter will also host its annual summit with cultural marketing agency 160over90 on February 8, in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Endeavor and TKO Lounge. The brand panel moderated by USA TODAY Ad Meter Editor Rick Suter will include industry leaders from Anheuser-Busch, Mars Wrigley, OREO and Hellmann’s who will discuss and analyze advertising strategies around this year’s Super Bowl lineup.

Well, for $7 million, you SHOULD at least get a trip to Las Vegas out of it.  They probably even got a game ticket.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to a couple of Super Bowls, so I’m not as jealous as I could be.  These days, even finding people willing to watch the game on TV with me is a challenge.

But I’m optimistic.  There’s a decent chance I’m connecting with a few visitors from out-of-town this year, and we’ve got a LOT to catch up on.  We may even watch some of the action.  So as a result, I’m making sure I rate every single possible Ad Meter ad before the game, so when it comes on, I can dart to the bathroom with some confidence I won’t have FOMO.

I’ve already won back roughly 20 minutes of time from my indulgence on Sunday as a result.  So regardless of where my prop bets might or might not go, I already consider myself a winner.

I think I’ll celebrate with some Hellman’s and a slightly less spicy brand of Doritos.

Until next time…

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