USA Today’s Ad-Meter: Man, That’s One Big-Ass Focus Group.

Well, I went 50-50 on my predictions for what would show up in the Top 10 of USA Today’s Ad Meter.

I guessed kinda right that a Bud Light spot would make it in. I guessed that another user-generated Doritos spot would make the top 10. That Weiden would a cool spot for Coke. That Pepsi would do something cool (the mind-reading one). And of course, the CareerBuilder monkeys would show up and win. And I was also right in guessing that Crispin (as much as I love ‘em and I do love ‘em) that Crispin would step in it with a misfire.

You can read all about it on USA Today’s Ad Meter page. Here’s their Top 10.
1. Bud Light “Dog Sitter”
2. Doritos “Pug’s Revenge”
3. Volkswagen “Darth Vader”
4. Doritos “Grandpa resurrected”
5. Pepsi Max “Can to girlfriend’s head”
6. Career Builder “Chimps return”
7. Pepsi Max “Reading thoughts”
8. NFL “TV show clips of fans”
9. Bridgestone “Beaver pays back good deed”
10. Coca-Cola “Border crossing guards”

I spent the entire game screwin’ around on Twitter and pretty much had a blast watchin’ the game with thousands of other ad geeks. (Best two tweets, both below, were about how bad the half-time show was.)

I had one eye on the spots and the other on a Twitter feed that was scrollin’ faster than the movie-credits on a late-night rerun. Since I pick the people I follow, I think my Twitter buddies picked pretty much the right spots; at least compared to the spots chosen by that august group of judges, the Ad Meter council.

Here’s my thing about the Ad Meter. It’s basically a big-ass focus group and we all know what happens in those sad windowless rooms with their plastic plants, M&Ms, and mall shoppers, people who were paid a small amount of money to feel temporarily in charge of something.  If I may get even more elitist here for a moment, here’s what one of their “judges” had to say about her criteria.

“I just like it to be funny. Sometimes I don’t even pay attention to what the ad is about, just that it is funny,” says Brenda Moore, 51, of Bakersfield, Calif., an Ad Meter panelist. She has reason to want to laugh. There are rumblings about cutbacks at her company. “My philosophy is pray on it and hope things turn out your way.”

Yes, I’m elitist. And I will be an elitist until the day I die. Because I simply refuse to adjust everything downward to appeal to what passes for the “common man,” which in America is basically anyone who watches Fox News. I can’t do it. Won’t do it. I don’t believe hitting people in the crotch with a can of Pepsi is funny. If that’s elitist, sue me.

But I can’t be that elitist. I laughed when the chimps wrecked that guys car in the CareerBuilder spot. Still, I wasn’t one of the many online goin’ on about “Man, all the Super Bowl spots suck!” Dude, … the half-time show? That sucked. Or the local commercials that ran during half-time, they sucked. In my opinion, spots on every Super Bowl are generally a little better than what plays the rest of the year. (Why clients and agencies try so hard for the Super Bowl is a mystery I wrote about in a previous posting.)

In America’s defense I was glad to see there wasn’t the same high level of sophomoric humor this year. Nothing as puerile as the “farting horses” (from Bud Light  a few years back), nor was there any poop humor or pee-pee jokes. I was also heartened to see the Ad Meter judges correctly put that annual national embarrassment of GoDaddy at the bottom of the list.

My personal top two picks were both from VW. Damn I loved that kid in the Darth Vader costume; such a good physical actor he was. And the animated “Beetle” was also stellar. (Ex GSDM-er Mark Peters did that one.) They tied in a great YouTube page takeover that was also pretty cool.

The other spot that just KILLED me was the Chrysler spot. Damn. It was a bit of a “hybrid,” if you will, in that it started off as a copy-driven brand spot, then at about forty seconds it became a visual story, and at the very end, it’s a celeb spot, and then a product spot. W+K, I bow to thee.

I liked the “Border Guards” one for Coke, but it bugs me that it’s kinda like a spot done in India for some brand of booze. But, people, there is NO way in hell Weiden copied anything. This is just another one of those unfortunate duplications that happen from time to time in this business.

For instance, it’s no slam on Doritos that years ago GSDM did a One Show silver-winning spot for 7-Eleven (below), complete with the same creepy finger-licking. This shit happens. (Well, sometimes it’s intentional, like those horrible Verizon ads which are clones of “Mac vs. PC.”)

[pro-player width=’500′ height=’380′ type=’video’ image=’’][/pro-player]

Skechers (if that’s how you spell it) did something horrible onscreen and I’ll never get those thirty seconds back. And while I didnt like seeing Crispin tank with that bad Groupon spot, c’mon guys, you shoulda seen that one misfiring from miles away.

In the end of course, the big cool new thing in Super Bowl 45 was the undercurrent of the web running through it all. It wasn’t the explosion of social media tie-ins I was expecting, but you could see a change beginning to happen. Social media was used before the game to build buzz and then during the game to redirect viewers back online.

“This is the new water cooler,” said Ann Mukherjee, Frito-Lay CMO. “Digital space is helping to re-create that human behavior of talking at the water cooler.”

Final note. I’ve been in the business a long time and I can tell you for a fact that nobody ever gathered around any fuckin’ water cooler. Where the hell did water coolers come from?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

POSTSCRIPT: Does it PAY to air a spot on the Super Bowl? Article in Austin American-Statesman where we discuss this question at some length.


  1. I’m with you on the VW spots. Both great. I also liked the Bud Lite “remodeled kitchen” spot. Simple. Well executed. Spot-on parody of something chics dig that is gibberish to guys. And it only cost them five bucks to make.
    On the other hand, the Audi campaign is a bazillion-dollar muddled mess that only talks to itself. Remember the old British Audi spot with the twit who test drives an Audi and rejects it? Same message with tons more impact.
    Speaking of twits, when did BMW become a slapstick brand? Even Hyundai is out-classing them.
    – Poopypants

  2. Hey Luke,

    Thanks for your opinion. You’re a purist for good reason: You remember when it was important to have a memorable message in a commercial. It’s all too much about making men look stupid these days.

    My only post was about the T-Mobile/Apple look-alike commercials. Talk about borrowed interest!

    I favored the Chrysler/Emenem, VW and Kia spots. Chrysler for it’s hard-working character, VW for their good taste and Kia for it’s Mayan (time travel) ending. I thought the Groupon ad was in completely bad taste and I missed the original E-Trade baby.

    For what’s it’s worth, Dodge and Kenney had a water cooler, while you guys at Fallon had a champagne cooler. No wonder you didn’t get the context. 🙂

  3. Luke, I love your BLOG, I love you and I love your article. So why is it that I just don’t care anymore? I remember the days rushing out to try and find a copy of the USA Today to see the Admeter results. I remember getting all stoked up to look through the One Show Annual. I remember seeing TV spots and saying, “Damn, I wish I did that.” But none of that happens anymore. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t seen a really great spot or campaign in such a long time that I have forgotten how to love. Where’s the beef indeed. Apathy is such a cruel mistress.

  4. The VW Darth Vader spot was, for me, far an away the best ad. Maybe it’s because I still use a force wave to “open” automatic doors.

    Hmm a commercial that has an actually connection what a novel idea. Felt the same about the Coke “Charlie Brown” spot.

    Thanks for cutting through the crap.

  5. Luke, spot on with the 2 VW spots. Darth Vader was my favorite hands down, but bummed that it was leaked before the game. Very nice as a :60.

  6. Agree with the picks, but I do have one small caveat. Love the Chrysler spot… gee copy returns and yes it’s proof of the power of words coupled with strong images. However, there’s one small point no one’s mentioning: Is this car really “luxury” as the opening line proclaims?

  7. This was a great recap & I agree that Twitter was very entertaining last night.
    I loved the Chrysler spot for the reasons you mentioned, but the thing I liked the best about it was maybe the voice over talent. Great direction, great delivery.

  8. Luke,
    For a minute there I thought you had something against W+K! That’s the one spot I want to keep coming back to. Be interesting to see if others feel the same way, and how long it lives on via YouTube, etc. To me it was Rineyesque — an homage to an entire under-appreciated segment of our society. And I have no problem with the copy talking about luxury. A tricked out 200 will be more luxurious than any car 9 out of 10 drivers will ever experience.
    Of course, I’m just making that up.

  9. Doritos, Pepsi Max, BudLight and Groupon=HORRIBLE! What are we 8? They were like slap stick routines and fart jokes. Licking cheese residue…that is disgusting. Making a dog run into a glass door, pretty sure that is animal cruelty. Most importantly what is the message? Doritos are for gross people who lick their friends pants? The situation in Tibet and the destruction of the rainforest is comedic? What did USAToday base their list on? My favs were VW Vader and Beetle, Chrysler Detroit, CocaCola, Audi A8 and KIA and Budweiser Saloon was up there too. Car manufactures should pat themselves of the back, they did good this year. Oh and FYI, I watch Fox News.

    • I agree with you re: the Dorito Ad. Abuse of any kind is not funny! People today are just plain nuts! Also what is wrong with the girl who is having a relationship with this jerk. Makes you wonder doesn/t it?

  10. Luke, I’m gonna semi-agree with you on the VW spot … why? Because everyone calls it the VW spot and nobody says The Passat Spot. It took me three times seeing it to get that it was for the Passat and I have absolutely zero interest in a car feature that has been available for 15 years. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Vader, the kid … it was wonderfully crafted. Great win for Lucas and Vader Halloween costumes. The Beetle ad is better for VW, even though they %^%^&*^ stole Infiniti’s mark! How the hell do they get away with that? Probably blasphemy to say but I liked the CarMax Kid in a Candy Store spot.

  11. Aha! The 7-Eleven finger-licking spot! I thought of it immediately when I saw the doritos ad, and have been wanting to share it with my facebook friends. Is there an embed link to play directly on my facebook page?

  12. So I guess that means you didn’t copy your final note “insight” about water coolers from George Costanza, who said pretty much the same thing during the Seinfeld finale?


    • hey georgette: NOpe, great minds just think a like.

  13. Yeah. The Chrysler spot really moved me. Think it hit dead-on the American zeitgeist. But, it got cheapened for me by the Brisk, animated Eminem spot that ran just prior to it. Wish they’d gotten exclusivity on that guy.

    The VW Darth Vader kid was awesome. Reminded me of my son Blue wearing his oversized Vader hat around the house when he was younger.

    Good stuff.



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Author, speaker, and ad veteran available to recharge, reinvigorate, and refocus marketing, advertising, and branding firms.

I give a hugely energetic series of presentations on innovation, creativity, branding, and marketing. I spent 32 years in the trenches of advertising (at agencies like Martin, GSD&M, and Fallon) and I’ve put everything I learned into my book, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. But for me nothing beats taking the message out and speaking to living breathing audiences at clients, agencies, and conferences. You can book me on the button below.