Business v. Census : Super Bowl Ads and Social Media

Super Bowl commercials today seem to have just as much anticipation as the actual game does. Businesses are utilizing social media in different ways to engage users pre-game, during the game, and post-game to continue to drive their marketing efforts.

This year, Anheuser-Busch has completely taken over a hotel in New Orleans turning it into a “Bud Light Hotel.” They’ll be having live concerts throughout the weekend streaming on their Myspace page and are using Facebook to find a fan to be the “Bud Light Hotel Facebook Correspondent” to cover the events.

For years, Doritos has crowdsourced its Super Bowl ads offering fans a chance to win $1 million if it reaches the top of the charts. Fans interact on the numerous social media outlets to vote and watch the ads prior to the game.

In 2010, the Census Bureau purchased an ad slot that by almost all accounts failed. The $2.5 million ad was directed by filmmaker Christopher Guest and seemed to try to put off of a culturally different, indie-movie vibe. By most rankings it was the worst ad of the night and in the top 5 for worst Super Bowl ads ever.


So why did the Census ad fail so miserably?

  • It wasn’t easy to understand
  • The ad had no hook. Often times ads have humor that people notice and remember, but the Census ad didn’t
  • No buzz was generated. Do you remember talking about the Census ad (other than how useless it was) at work in the weeks after the Super Bowl?


Its important to remember the goals when developing marketing and social media efforts for an agency. The goal of a marketing effort should be designed for the audience to understand, remember, and generate some form of action. A commercial (and marketing in general) should match the tone of the channel – have you ever seen the Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercial during Saturday Night Live? With the ever increasing use of social media, agencies need to utilize them in efficient ways and not waste scarce resources.

While most agencies will never need to purchase a Super Bowl ad, what do you think can be learned from the failed Census attempt? Do your agencies try to incorporate social media with the Super Bowl?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Wow – I didn’t remember that one (to your point). And it was terrible (sorry Census, love y’all and your mission).

Now what I would love to see (which I’ve mentioned in many places on GovLoop before) is a “Morning in America” style Clint Eastwood that vouches for the value of government employees. Make it patriotic and inspiring. I think it could have an impact.

Curious to see if any agencies are hooking their wagons to the Super Bowl this year…

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Kate M. Long

Military departments such as the Navy and the Army have good recruiting advertisements. Other government agencies should take a page out of their playbook. Granted I’m sure budgeting for advertisement differs greatly, but it would be interesting to see what other agencies could do with that kind of marketing support.

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Patrick Fiorenza

Great post – for the Census I think they had the right idea of putting themselves out there and knowing that by having an ad, they will have broad reach and get in front of an audience they typically do not have access too. My big lesson learned from the Census is not to afraid to take a risk and knowing how to creatively reach your target audience.

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