Bruce Horovitz USA TODAY
Perhaps Anheuser-Busch should bottle and sell something besides beer: its Super Bowl ad formula.
For a fourth consecutive year, Anheuser-Busch broadcast the best-liked TV commercial in the USA TODAY’s 14th annual Ad Meter. The ad featured a Bud Light-loving guy whose wife lures him with a bottle but quickly loses him to some slick satin sheets that send him flying out the bedroom window.
To add insult to the rest of the advertisers, Anheuser-Busch broadcast four of the five best-liked ads. The No. 2 ad featured a beer-loving falcon that wreaks havoc on a cafÃ© in search of a Bud Light. No. 3 featured a woman kickboxing a guy for an ill-spoken come-on line at a bar.
In a Super Bowl surrounded by images of patriotism and flag-waving, it was humor with a twist in advertising that ultimately won most viewers’ appreciation. More than half the 56 ads broadcast during the game had some kind of comedic punch line.
“Don’t you think we need a good laugh?” asks Denise Speed, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom from Washington, D.C. “After the last four months, we need a lot to laugh about.”
But there’s nothing funny about the stakes: Advertisers paid about $1.9 million for each 30-second segment. About 130 million viewers tuned in to the nation’s football championship, which has become almost as well-known for its advertising as its athleticism.
Anheuser-Busch ads never stopped clicking. One flag-waving ad, featuring the famous Clydesdales taking a long journey through the winter snow to pay their respects to the World Trade Center victims, scored especially high among women who wanted their heartstrings plucked more than they wanted their funny bones tickled.
By most standards, this was the best crop of Super Bowl ads in years. Advertisers broadly succeeded in making viewers laugh — a task that can be especially difficult during the tension of the Super Bowl game. But after the drama of Sept. 11, the public finally seems ready to laugh. And laugh hard.
“This year, I’d rather see the funny ones than the serious ones,” says Angela Alexander, a 29-year-old junior accountant from Alexandria, Va.
Some, however, weren’t laughing at the violent nature of some of A-B’s ads. “I just can’t stand the violent ones,” says Brenda Rupli, a 59-year-old education outreach coordinator from Silver Spring, Md. “I’ve been sensitized to violence since 9-11.”
But no one had better luck than Anheuser-Busch. Company executives began planning their Super Bowl ads the day after last year’s big game. Hundreds of ideas are discussed — and rejected before tapping the final few.
“We have to remain humble,” said August Busch IV, group vice president of marketing and wholesale operations, from his home in St. Louis where he watched Super Bowl XXXVI.
“We’ve got great management that allows us to take chances and push the envelope,” Busch says. “And, hopefully, we have a proven track record as a great American beer.”
Executives at Anheuser-Busch have plenty to celebrate. The brewer posted record U.S. beer sales volume of 99.5 million barrels in 2001, a 1.2% increase from the year before. The company makes the world’s two best-selling beers: Budweiser and Bud Light.
But there were some high-profile flops, too. Even with Britney Spears in its hip pocket, Pepsi fell flat. In two spots — one of which was 90 seconds long — Spears crooned old Pepsi tunes. The 90-second ad, which cost Pepsi about $5.8 million to air — was the third-lowest-rated Pepsi spot among the 52 ever rated by Ad Meter. And a 30-second Spears ad that followed later was the lowest-ranked Pepsi ad in 14 years of measurement.
“There’s a distinction between winning Ad Meter and how you’re going to position your brand,” says Larry Jabbonsky, a Pepsi spokesman.
But one Ad Meter panelist just didn’t get the Spears ads. “It seems like Pepsi is a second thought in the ads and that the product is Britney Spears not Pepsi,” says Stephanie Furin, 34, an administrator at the National Health Institute from Gaithersburg, Md.
Perhaps the talker of the night was the Levi’s spot.
Using minimal special effects, a Hispanic guy calmly crosses a Mexico City street