Viewers are being offered a new way to engage with the most important part of the Super Bowl following an announcement from USA Today and Facebook. The Gannett Co. publication is opening its annual Super Bowl Ad Meter to participation by all Facebook members for Super Bowl XLVI, which will be held Feb. 5, 2012, at Lucas Oil Stadium (pictured) in Indianapolis.

For the past 23 years USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter reflected the opinion of fewer than 300 volunteers, chosen to be representative and given hand-held devices to record their reactions. Those professional focus groups will be conducted again in 2012 and the results will be shared with the public after the game, as has been USA Today’s usual practice.

This year, however, there also will be the USA Today – Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter, a social media experience that runs separate and live throughout the game. The partners will offer an app on Facebook and that can be used online and via mobile that lets everyone view the ads, rate them and share them with their friends.

“The impact and influence of Ad Meter over the years has been astounding.  Through this partnership with Facebook we’re giving consumers a voice with the opportunity to rate and share the ads with their friends,” said David Payne, senior vice president and chief digital officer of Gannett Co. “Social media is changing the face of consumer engagement and this partnership more than ever, puts the consumer at the center of the conversation around advertising’s biggest annual event.”

Mike Hoefflinger, director of global business marketing at Facebook, added that the social media giant was proud to be part of making the Ad Meter social, which “brings it to an entirely new level.”

Super Bowl XLVI will be televised nationally by NBC. In 2011 it was carried by Fox Broadcasting and included 61 commercials that cost up to $3 million per 30-second slot, and it was by watched by an average of 111 million viewers.

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Photo by flickr user bnpositive, used under Creative Commons license