RedFor more than 25 years

[i], USA TODAY’s Ad Meter has been considered the sports business industry’s primary barometer by which to gauge the success of the Super Bowl’s featured commercials. The Ad Meter empanels consumers across the country to rate every commercial airing during “the big game” on a 0-10 scale; then, each commercial’s average score is tallied and the ads are ranked from best to worst[ii].

This year, Anheuser-Busch’s puppy/Clydesdale love story took the Ad Meter’s top spot with an average rating of 8.29, significantly ahead of Doritos, the Meter’s second place finisher (“Cowboy Kid”, 7.58)[iii]. By contrast, Bank of America’s “Red” commercial, featuring U2 debuting a new track titled “Invisible”, garnered only a 4.82 score[iv]. That put “Red” in the bottom third of the more than 50 Ad Meter-scored spots. However, that number doesn’t tell the whole story.

In addition to featuring U2’s performance of their new number, “Red” offered viewers a proposition: download “Invisible” for free from iTunes within 24 hours, and Bank of America would donate $1 for every download (up to $2 million total) to support Product (RED)’s mission to fight HIV/AIDS.

Within hours, consumers had downloaded the song more than 2 million times, prompting BOA to lift their pre-stated cap and promise to continue to donate for each download until the promotion’s 24-hour expiration[v]. That number ended up topping $3 million, which – according to @RED’s twitter feed – can fund more than 7.5 million days’ worth of HIV medication.

This campaign engaged celebrities, many of whom (Gwyneth Paltrow, Olivia Wilde, Lenny Kravitz, etc.) re-tweeted the promotion, broadening its reach. It was a coordinated effort between brands, featured on BOA, (RED) and U2’s homepages. Critically, it drove consumers to interact with iTunes, Bank of America, U2 and Product (RED), mostly via online means (via twitter, etc.).

Not knowing the campaign’s specific goals or KPIs, I’ll nonetheless venture a guess that boosting awareness of and engagement with BOA and (RED) were both high on that list.  It’s hard to imagine that this effort under-delivered on either, especially given the press it continues to attract in spades during the 24 hour donation window (a Monday Google News search for “Product (RED)” returned more than 130K results).

The moral of this story? With the emergence of social as a key component of televised advertising, it’s no longer accurate to rely solely on the Ad Meter for a complete picture of the impact of the commercials that ran during this past Sunday’s Super Bowl. Other metrics, such as social media traction and “mentions”, should be considered as well.  Sure, the puppy/Clydesdale narrative was cute, but did it drive me to learn more about A/B, or buy a Bud? No.  “Red”, on the other hand, barely made an Ad Meter ripple in comparison, but we know it spurred a minimum of three million consumers to action, which I bet most brands would chalk up as a major win.