Doritos has a shtick with staying power: In its sixth year of airing fan-made Super Bowl commercials during the Super Bowl, from a contest that drew more than 6,100 entries, the two ads it aired were hits—one topped the USA Today ad meter, and the second is trending at the top on the Facebook ad meter (which will be released Tuesday). And it’s not the first time–Doritos’ “Pug Attack” tied for first place in the Ad Meter rankings last year. The “Crash The Super Bowl” ads also helped Doritos to the top position in the BrandBowl, an agency-led ranking of the social media activity generated by Super Bowl advertisers.
Why does Doritos produce ads with such apparent mass appeal? “You don’t have too many chefs spoiling the stew,” says Tyler Dixon, a finalist this year whose ad ultimately didn’t make the final cut, but whose finger-licking Doritos ad aired last year. “The ad world wants to discredit this program, say there’s no way these guys are amateurs, it’s rigged. We are amateurs, but we’re beating most of the ad agencies’ ads every year in the Ad Meter.”
So is this the future of advertising—just open the gates and pick the best stuff? In a roundtable with some of the Doritos finalists this weekend (five teams were brought down here and gathered in a suite at Lucas Oil Field during the game to see which two ads actually aired), the answer was: Well, maybe. But probably, almost certainly, likely, there’s a good chance no.
Talking to the Doritos filmmakers makes clear what the ad world’s dilemma is. These Doritos lovers are evangelists for the process—that newcomers like them are just as creative as the established set, and that Doritos is brilliant to harness that energy. “Some of our ideas are kind of wild,” says Kevin T. Wilson, whose ad, in which a grandma slingshots a baby to score Doritos, aired during the game. “If they were pitched to the client, they’d get shot down. What we get to do in this unique program is, there is no one saying ‘No, you can’t do that.’ We have that creative freedom. You don’t have to get client approval.” (Though ads are still screened for suitability and some entries don’t make the cut for reasons other than their relative excellence).
And the world is indeed full of brilliant ideas felled by over-cautious bosses. But, of course, the stat that makes this so impressive for Doritos—such brand excitement that 6,100 people submitted an ad!—also makes it a pretty inefficient advertising model. What agency would create 6,100 ads, in order to air only two? Sounds like the definition of a drain. “Cost wise, yeah,” concedes Heather Kasprzak, Tyler’s girlfriend and ad co-creator (they met when they were both finalists last year as well). “But it’s free for Doritos!”
The new sign of a success: When someone creative defends your work-for-free model?
But in crowdsourcing, Doritos is giving these up-and-comers a rare and valuable education in what the clients, and all those additional chefs in the kitchen, have learned after making mass-market commercials: The mass market can be full of crazy people.
That’s what Dixon discovered when his commercial aired last year. The premise: An office worker craves Doritos so much that he licks the cheesy residue off a colleague’s finger. Funny, simple, a little gross. But then: “This whole world opened up, and there was this whole debate online about what the significance of what the white guy sucking the black guy’s finger was,” Dixon says. “Everyone had these theories that it was some commentary on Obama, blah blah blah. The real answer is that it was my childhood best friend and another close friend, and those were the only two guys I could get to show up that day.”
This year, for his and Kasprzak’s ad “Dog Park” (which didn’t air yesterday), he spent more time thinking about the many ways his creation could be misinterpreted. A million little Tweeting, anonymous chefs had joined the kitchen.
So maybe the Doritos challenge can’t be replicated for every ad during the Super Bowl, or the other 364 days of advertising. Doritos is certainly happier that way. And the finalists were all just thrilled to inch their way toward industry success, and grow their chances to take another trip, this time commissioned rather than won in a contest, to a national ad campaign.
On Thursday night, as Indianapolis’s citywide schmoozefest began in earnest, finalist Nate Watkin was in the celebrity- and media-packed bar at the JW Marriott. On January 1, 2008, when he was only 19, he and buddy Brad Scott marched into a bank and took out a $10,000 loan. With that money, they bought some cameras and started Definite Productions, a company that makes commercials and music videos–local stuff, mostly. But at 1:30 a.m. in Indy, Watkin was able to make small talk like anyone else. “I direct commercials,” he told some guy who looked like a former linebacker.
Long out of earshot of the linebacker, he was more nuanced. “We’re just trying to break down the door, grow the company,” he said. Turns out his ad—a hilarious jab at Siri in which a guy asks his magical phone for “three hot, wild girls,” but the phone misunderstands him and sends three Rottweilers instead–wouldn’t air during the Super Bowl. But, hey: Maybe next year.