Anheuser-Busch ads bowl over rivals again

Not only does beermaker score best-liked ad, it also takes 4 of top 10 spots

By Bruce Horovitz USA TODAY

They’re breaking out the six-packs at Anheuser-Busch today to celebrate airing the best-liked Super Bowl commercial for the third consecutive year.

This year’s winning ad in the 13th annual USA TODAY Ad Meter: the amorous adventures, gone awry, of smooth-talking funny guy Cedric, whose Bud Light explodes all over his dream date.

The Ad Meter focus group surveyed the 55 ads broadcast during the Super Bowl. The game, with its U.S. audience of 144 million, is widely viewed on Madison Avenue as the Super Bowl of advertising. Advertisers paid as much as $2.3 million for each 30-second segment.

Only one other advertiser — PepsiCo — has ever won Ad Meter for three consecutive years. But this year, Pepsi spots, which haven’t finished first since 1998, barely registered with Ad Meter viewers. Pepsi didn’t even crack the top five this year.

“We didn’t have the ‘Wow!’ factor,” says Dawn Hudson, Pepsi’s senior vice president of strategy and marketing. “It was an OK showing. It wasn’t the top. It wasn’t the worst.”

E-Trade’s bald security guard with the Bruce Lee-like daydreams rated second. And Visa ranked third with a spot featuring multiplying rabbits in a pet shop.

But the Ad Meter crowd cheered time after time for Anheuser-Busch, which had four of the top 10 ads. The brewer literally spent the past year refining its fleet of seven Super Bowl spots.

“They’re always humorous. They don’t take themselves too seriously,” says Ken Toy, a 40-year-old electronics engineer.

“It’s humbling. Every year we try to get over a hurdle,” says Bob Lachky, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of brand management.

But Budweiser’s cute ads don’t necessarily convert beer drinkers into Bud drinkers. “They’d have to change their beer,” says financial analyst Jeanne Vaughn, 34, who is a big fan of Anheuser-Busch ads but hasn’t hoisted a Bud since college. “I don’t like the taste,” she says. But she does like Bud’s newest spokesjokester, Cedric. So, apparently, does the rest of America.

“He made the spot,” says August Busch IV, group vice president of marketing. He says A-B reviewed 20 spots before narrowing to seven and giving Cedric the key slot as the game’s first commercial.

Cedric the Entertainer (that’s his stage name — his real name is Cedric Kyles) is a stand-up comic, singer and dancer who was a star in Spike Lee’s comedic performance film from last year, The Original Kings of Comedy. He also stars on The Steve Harvey Show, WB’s highest-rated comedy.

But bigger things could be ahead for him.

The Cedric ad features a portly guy with a Barry White-like voice who is cool on the couch with his date but does a victory dance when he’s alone in the kitchen getting a couple of beers. Unfortunately, that bumpy dance converts his bottle of Bud Light into a dangerous weapon.

The ad “certainly shows what goes on in a guy’s head on a date,” says Marshall Knight, a 26-year-old attorney. “You have the suave role in the living room, but what’s really going on in his mind is in the kitchen.”

Winning trends: * Visual jokes. On Super Bowl Sunday, advertisers know it can be hard to be heard above the hoopla. That’s why visual jokes win big. Like Otto, the little dog who gets huge after cleaning out his master’s fridge. Or the gazillions of squirrels running at Pamplona, Spain, for EDS.

* Animal kingdom. We are a nation of animal lovers. Especially during commercial break time on Super Bowl Sunday. Visa’s rabbits were a hit. Albert Middleton, 61, a real estate appraiser, says Visa’s multiplying rabbit ad is “another indication of just how much we like animals in commercials.”

Also, dogs showed up in two Budweiser ads. And the silly monkey returned — on a horse, no less — for E-Trade.

* Minorities sell. Corporate America seems to have finally learned that diversity sells. The ads had more diversity than George Bush’s Cabinet. More than half the Super Bowl spots featured African-Americans, Asians or Hispanics prominently — including three of the top five spots.

Losing trends: * Don’t do that. The “anti-ads” that advised viewers not to smoke — or to drink responsibly — generally didn’t score well. Among the ads, two anti-smoking ads for the American Legacy Foundation and a responsible-drinking spot, featuring ‘N Sync, for Anheuser-Busch.

* B-list celebs. This was hardly the Super Bowl of A-list celebrities in ads. Never mind that former president Bill Clinton allegedly turned down a $2 million offer to appear in a Super Bowl spot. The only other celeb close to A-list other than ‘N Sync was Ali Landry, who returned for the third time in a Doritos spot. It’s all B-list from there. Bob Dole was in a Viagra parody for Pepsi. NFL coaching legend Bill Walsh talked game talk in an Invesco spot. “It’s about time they got away from celebrities,” says Rose Williams, 59, a child-care worker. “People prefer everyday people.”

* First-timers fail. Only one of 10 first-time Super Bowl advertisers cracked the top 10 — testimony to how difficult the Super Bowl is for ad rookies. Volkswagen, with three ads, was a bust.

* Films flop. Trailers for upcoming films — no matter how big — don’t seem to translate very well on Super Bowl Sunday. This year was no exception. Even the ad for MGM’s upcoming Hannibal didn’t cause a blip.