By Paul Thomasch
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The polls are out, the critics, academics and armchair ad executives have cast their votes and the winners of this year's Super Bowl branding battle have been declared: Volkswagen, Bridgestone, Doritos and Bud Light.
The big loser? That may be the actual polls and reviews run by USA Today, Kellogg School of Management, The Wall Street Journal and Advertising Age.
No longer are polls the object of obsession they once were with chief marketing officers seeking feedback on the millions they forked over for 30 or 60 seconds of Super Bowl commercial time. Twitter and Facebook are replacing them.
Rating highly in polls still does not hurt, of course. But social networks can tell CMOs more than the simple thumbs up/thumbs down conclusions of voting, since the ads become the subject of conversations rather than one-word responses.
Plus, buzz on Twitter or Facebook can also make a product cool -- a designation that justifies the $3 million cost of a Super Bowl ad.
Consider E*Trade Financial Corp, which ran a popular ad on Sunday featuring its spokesbaby getting measured by his tailor Enzo, "the artiste behind my wardrobe." That ad was just part of a broader campaign that included extensions to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a site that lets the consumer create a script for the baby and email it to friends.
"In the last couple of years, we've done incredibly well with the USA poll, the Wall Street Journal poll, so we've won a couple of those," said E*Trade Chief Marketing Officer Nick Utton.
"But at the end of the day you want to be part of the conversation -- this is not just about running one spot on the Super Bowl. This is a business decision, so it means full integration."
In other instances of social media gimmicks, 20th Century Fox's ad for its upcoming "Rio" movie that ran on Sunday directed viewers to a special level of the popular "Angry Birds" mobile game; and PepsiCo Inc ran a "Crash the Super Bowl" Web campaign -- with all the requisite Facebook and Twitter links -- around ads created by amateurs.
Whether these efforts work is still the $64,000 question, said Al DiGuido, chief executive of digital ad agency Zeta, which tracks the social media chatter about Super Bowl ads after the game.
"The Internet and social media are very fickle. You've got to make sure that brand aura you've created extends and has a life," DiGuido said.
As for what is hot on the Web, Bridgestone's "Reply All" about a possibly disastrous email reply, received 94 percent positive buzz, according to Zeta. That was followed by Pepsi Max's consumer-generated "First Date."
The two lowest-ranking spots -- in terms of social media buzz -- was one from Doritos featuring an office worker licking the leftover Doritos cheese powder off a co-worker's finger.
But Doritos can take comfort in the more traditional world of surveys, having received an "A" rating for its efforts from Kellogg School of Management's review.
Among the other ads favored in the post-game polls:
* The Wall Street Journal poll gave top honors to Volkswagen AG's "The Force" spot, in which a boy dressed as Darth Vader believes he used the mythical "Star Wars" force to start his dad's Passat.
* In USA Today's 23rd annual poll, two spots feature dogs tied for a top prize, one from Anheuser-Busch InBev NV's Bud Light and the other from Doritos.
* A slapstick spot from Snickers, a brand of candy company Mars, set in a logging camp took the top prize in TiVo Inc's audience measurement analysis. It was followed by the odd couple of teen sensation Justin Bieber and veteran rocker Ozzy Osbourne in a spot from Best Buy.
(Reporting by Paul Thomasch, editing by Matthew Lewis)