As anyone who watched the New Orleans Saints' drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts last night knows, the U.S. Census ran a commercial during the Superbowl to highlight attention to its upcoming 2010 survey. The $2.5 million spot -- part of the agency's $340 million promotion campaign -- aims to increase participation and reach historically under-counted populations, although it attracted ire from conservative critics such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who claimed it was a waste of taxpayer money.
The spot was directed by Christopher Guest, the off-beat actor and director behind so-called "mockumetary" hits "This is Spinal Tap" and "Best in Show." Competing with advertising heavyweights such as Budweiser, Google, and Coca-Cola, how did the Census fair?
Based on instant reactions, not too well.
The spot scored low in USA Today's "Ad Meter" rankings, compiled through focus groups, although it didn't inspire as much loathing as those Danica Patrick GoDaddy.com ads. And Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management also gave the ad an "F" in its ratings, claiming the ad "fell flat."
The spot has its defenders, but they're few and far between. For instance, Digital Sports Daily wrote, "It makes fun of corporate speak, of Hollywood, and in a way itself."
But remember, their target audience isn't entertainment writers, it's regular citizens. And as any marketing expert will tell you, commercials don't have to be works of art to work.
This isn't the first time an agency has dipped its toe into the world of big-time sports advertising. Last year, to gear up for the switch-over to digit television, the Federal Communications Commission sponsored a NASCAR team--which crashed in its first race.
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