Ready for Prime Time?

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 01-15-2007

Super Bowl ads are often more entertaining than the actual game on the field. Rating the expensive spots—the top price for a 30-second ad on CBS is about $2.6 million this year—has become a sport unto itself for fans and industry insiders alike. While some advertisers go for big production numbers and mini-movies, Doritos is taking the opposite tack: This year, the popular corn-chip brand from Frito-Lay Inc. (owned by Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc.) will air a snack-food commercial made by an amateur.

User-created content has grown increasingly popular over the last year, as big brands such as Coca-Cola and Chevrolet have used the Web to tap the talents of regular folks for online marketing efforts. Now Doritos, which in September launched a create-your-own-Super Bowl-ad contest in partnership with Yahoo!, is ready to take homegrown creativity to one of the world's largest stages.

More than 1,000 30-second spots were submitted to Doritos, which made logos, music clips, standard endings and animation tools available to entrants at the contest site. "We have been blown away by the quality of the submissions," says Frito-Lay spokesman Jared Dougherty. "There are ads done by amateur filmmakers, and ads made by people in their backyards with nothing more than a camcorder and a great idea." Many of the submissions are now available for viewing at the contest Web site.

The top five spots, as judged by the brand's marketing team on the basis of creativity, content and brand message, were revealed online on Jan. 5. Since then it's been a straight-up popularity contest, with votes cast at the Web site (one vote per e-mail address per day). The winning ad will be revealed during the big game on Feb. 4, when it will run as submitted, uncut, for what is traditionally the biggest U.S. television audience of the year.

Quite a change for a brand that has used its share of celebrities and sexy women to hawk its crunchy wares in the past, a change that could continue to ripple through Doritos marketing for some time to come. "What we're doing at the Super Bowl is just the tip of the iceberg," says Frito-Lay's Dougherty. "We are just starting to let consumers take control of the brand. It could mean letting people choose flavor names, or packaging." Viewers may end up seeing the four runners-up on TV, too. Says Dougherty: "We are going all-in with consumer participation."