At a cost of about $100,000 per second, the best advertisement in this year's Super Bowl belongs to CareerBuilder.com — or was it Pedigree, or Budweiser, or maybe Doritos?
As soon as the National Football League crowns a champion each year, advertising executives, chief marketing officers and academics begin scrutinizing polls to determine what commercial made the biggest splash during the broadcast watched by some 95 million people nationwide.
For good reason. This year, companies paid up to $3 million to run 30-second spots during NBC's broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII. Score with a high-rated, popular commercial and the investment may have paid off.
A spot that bombs? The ad agency that put the commercial together could find itself minus an important client.
The problem is that little consensus exists about who actually won the battle of the commercials.
This year, for instance, one closely watched poll rated a spot for PepsiCo's Doritos as the best commercial, but the snack food failed to even crack the top 10 in several other reviews.
"It speaks to the difficulty of testing creative," said Tom Denari, president of Young & Laramore, an Indianapolis-based ad agency. "It demonstrates that depending on who you are asking, you're just getting a different result."
In recent years, thanks to the Web, there has been an explosion in the number of polls that declare the winners and losers in Super Bowl advertising.
While USA Today's poll once dominated post-game reviews, it now shares the spotlight with The Wall Street Journal, AOL Sports, YouTube, Hulu and countless blogs.
Msnbc.com runs its own Super Bowl ad showdown.
Mike Wilson, chief creative officer of Dentsu America, who has worked on Super Bowl commercials for WebMD and Converse, recalls getting up at the crack of dawn and running down to the corner store to buy USA Today and scope out the reviews.
"Clients care," he said. "I'm not sure they would even admit it, but it's validation for spending that money.
"If you get slammed, it's very bad for the client relationship because they start to believe maybe you don't have a finger on the pulse. If it does incredibly well, maybe you get a pat on the back," Wilson said.
Indeed, two years ago, CareerBuilder, owned by a group of media companies including Gannett, put its advertising account in review after its Super Bowl commercial failed to rank in a top spot in USA Today's annual poll.
Since then, CareerBuilder has moved its work from agency Cramer-Krasselt to Wieden+Kennedy and is back in the game. This year's spot advised viewers that it "may be time" to look for a new job if your current one is so miserable that you have begun to daydream about punching small animals.
The CareerBuilder spot landed an "A" from the respected Kellogg School Review panel, yet failed to make the top 10 in the AOL Super Sunday Ad Poll — which ranks the public's favorite commercials — and received mixed reviews at Madison Avenue agencies owned by powerhouses like Omnicom Group or Interpublic Group.
"I felt like the spots that missed the biggest opportunity was the Monster spot and CareerBuilder spot, based on our current market environment," Denari said.
"Those ads came across as the kind of ads that would have been out three or four or five years ago, when everyone was employed and there was more of free-agent mentality," he said.
So, was CareerBuilder a winner or a loser? The same could be asked of PepsiCo's Cheetos, with a commercial known as "Gossip Girl," and Coca-Cola Co's "Picnic" commercial. Both spots rated highly in the AOL poll and generally resonated with ad professionals.
"I loved the Coke one where the insects steal the Coke," said Dentsu's Wilson. "It was fantastically produced."
But neither spot made the top 10 of USA Today's 21st Annual Super Bowl Ad Meter and neither is currently among the most watched on YouTube.
"I know people at agencies who have done some of these done spots are on Hulu clicking all day long," Wilson said. "That's how much it matters, because everyone in the agencies is going to vote for their spot 100 times."