'USA Today' poll not a valid metric

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USA Today's Super Bowl commercial ranking isn't some two-bit poll. It's a six-bit poll: After paying $2.6 million to run their spots, advertisers cough up 75 cents for the newspaper to see how they scored on the Ad Meter, a popularity contest for advertising's biggest game. It would be bizarre for a marketer to let the poll drive business decisions and absurd to fire an agency because of a mediocre score in this unscientific ranking.

Yet that's just what CareerBuilder did, according to ex-agency Cramer-Krasselt. The job site has declined requests for comment, so the best we have to go on is the explanation of agency CEO Peter Krivkovich: He says the client told him it was putting the account in review because it didn't score among the top 10 ads. The agency opted to quit rather than defend the business.

CareerBuilder-jointly owned by Tribune, Gannett (owner of USA Today) and McClatchy and promoted in their papers-has grown into the No. 1 job site in postings, traffic and U.S. revenue. It's a prime example of what the embattled newspaper industry is doing right online; Cramer-Krasselt, the site's agency since 2002, deserves credit for its contributions.

To be clear, CareerBuilder has been sliding down the USA Today poll. In its 2005 Bowl debut, its three chimp spots scored Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in the ranking. Last year, its chimps ranked 12 and 13. This year, CareerBuilder ditched the apes in favor of a campaign set in the workplace jungle; USA Today rated the spots 16, 27 and 28 (out of 57 ranked commercials).

But a Super Bowl campaign should be graded on results, not simply likability among the 238 adults in USA Today's "real-time consumer focus group." The day after the game, CareerBuilder's jungle campaign generated double the site visits of the old chimp campaign.

The USA Today Bowl poll does have a role to play in advertising: The Super Bowl is part of pop culture, and advertisers crave attention in consumer media. But the poll should not drive marketing. It appears that's what happened at CareerBuilder, but it's hardly alone in its obsession with the Ad Meter. With so much at stake, that's a superficial way for advertisers to keep score.
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