The commercial also ushered in an era in Super Bowl advertising that we still inhabit: the ad as entertainment.
That we expect ads during the Super Bowl to be as entertaining as the game itself can largely be traced back to “1984.”
In 1989, just a few years after “1984,” the national newspaper introduced a revolutionary concept — and a marketing masterstroke. Take a small panel of people, isolate them in a room with a meter and tell them to constantly turn a dial rating what they’re seeing on a scale from one to 10.
With so much at stake, to please the clients and bolster their own resumes, directors started creating ads for the panel — the media equivalent of teaching for the test. How do you get people to have an immediate, positive reaction to something they’re seeing? Certainly don’t show them a narrative. Make them laugh.
“It better be something that rings some bells or gets measured on the USA Today Richter Scale,” said TBWA/MediaArts Chairman Lee Clow. But the creator of “1984” also believes it means fewer ads like that one have been made. “It’s a big challenge to spend $3 million on the time and then a million on the spot. It’s kinda difficult to then come in 19th on the USA Today ‘How’d you like our spot?’ scale.”
Even so, the poll’s influence is waning. Today, most marketers combine immediate feedback with sophisticated research from Nielsen, GFK, Zeta Interactive, Kantar or Ace Metrix to understand the long-term impact of spots. Now that the real-time web has gone mass in the form of Facebook and Twitter, marketers and agencies have dozens of new services and dashboards to monitor, as well as the means to influence the discussion as it happens, not to mention giving the commentariat something else to write about.
Second, YouTube views and blog posts allow an ad to succeed or fail outside traditional media structures. VW’s “The Force” has been viewed more than 90 million times since Super Bowl 2011.
“If you go back 10 years, it was the only thing,” said CMO Scott Keogh. “You didn’t have social, YouTube views, you didn’t have the blogs and all the running commentary. Basically, the press would report on the Ad Meter.
Even USA Today has lost faith in the ability of the panel alone to pick a winner. This year, in addition to selecting two panels of 150 in cities that USA Today won’t reveal, the paper is opening up the voting to the public on Facebook. As a result, for the first time since 1989, USA Today won’t declare a “winner” in Monday morning’s paper. The true winner won’t be declared until after the polls close Wednesday.
Why not dump the panel entirely? In social media, consumers will rate only the ads they love and hate, a spokesperson said. The panel is the only way USA Today sees to be sure every ad gets a vote.
“I’ll have four screens going during the game in front of me, showing me charts and graphs,” Mr. Ewanick said. “We have five or six other groups monitoring, then we’ll have next-day research, copy testing, focus groups. There’s a lot of money involved here. You have to really understand your ROI to make sure you learn from this, so you can apply that the next year.”
When will we once again get more Super Bowl ads like “1984”? When creatives stop making spots to incite an instant reaction, sort of like Chrysler’s two-minute “Imported From Detroit,” a high-concept, big-idea spot that put Detroit before the car and even before the celebrity (Eminem). It was great creative, by most measures, and probably the closest thing to “1984” in its ambition since, well, “1984.”
Predictably, “Imported From Detroit” bombed on the Ad Meter, coming in at No. 43.