How Doritos Turned User-Generated Content Into the Biggest Super Bowl Campaign of the Year

Nine years into Doritos’ annual “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, the cute animals and kids just keep coming. Among this year’s 10 finalists: a screaming fish, a talking baby, kids at a (mis-)spelling bee, a pig with a rocket pack, and a manchild. Two of the commercials will make it to television and be seen by over 100 million viewers.

Will a yelling, hopping fish be enough to convince you to buy a big bag of nacho-cheese-dust-covered chips? By the time the Super Bowl’s two teams (R.I.P. Pittsburgh Steelers) actually go head to head, which commercial actually wins its 30 seconds of fame might not even matter. That’s the brilliance and the promise of “Crash the Super Bowl”: Doritos has been crowned the Super Bowl champion eight years in a row, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do it again.

It’s perhaps one of the most prominent and successful displays of user-generated content in the business. Rather than pay an ad agency to script, shoot, and test out the perfect Super Bowl advertisement, Doritos made the shrewd move a few years back to crowdsource. They ask their fans, or at least the general video-making population, to send in their own 30-second Doritos spot, with the simple guideline to “just make it awesome.”

For a 30-second video, there’s a lot to be gained for an amateur filmmaker. The grand prize winner will not only have their spot played as the official Doritos Super Bowl ad, but they also win $1 million and a job with Universal Studios to work on a major motion picture. Not too shabby. According to Today, one runner-up gets $50,000 and the second Super Bowl ad spot, and the other eight finalists will win $25,000 (and all 10 get Super Bowl tickets).

That’s big money, but so is the Super Bowl—30 seconds on NBC will cost you $4.5 million, according to Variety . The potential impact is likewise just as big: “Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII reached 111.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen, making it the most-watched event television event in U.S. history.”

Eight years of success shows that this is a pretty safe bet for Doritos, which rarely strays from their straightforward message. “With something like Doritos, there isn’t really anything the client wants to say other than ‘Doritos are tasty’,” ad expert Steve O’Connell explained to Forbes.

While their Frito-Lay brethren may use Super Bowl time to ask the chip-eating public to come up with new flavors like kettle-cooked wasabi ginger, Doritos only needs to get their name out in a memorable, funny way. Unlike beer, which—if last year’s Budweiser commercial is any indication—apparently involves emotional baggage, chips are strictly fun.

Playing on Doritos’ “For the Bold” tagline, most of this year’s finalists focus on just how desirable Doritos are—bold, but not dangerous. In one particularly odd ad, Doritos make a fish jump out of a pond to steal the bag of chips right under the nose of a fisherman. In another, “Doritos!” is a baby’s first word. Doritos turn a girl running a lemonade stand into an auctioneer and, in a dark twist, two kids have their dad arrested because he wouldn’t share his bag. Doritos turns grown men into needy man-children, are used to seduce women, are hoarded, and may cause death. But who most wants Doritos, according to these ads? Everyone: men 18–34, small children, really attractive women, animals of all species. Target demographics be damned.

Doritos’ ad recipe—a sprinkle of weirdness and a dash of stoner-chique—is ultimately family-friendly and gender-normative. You’ll never see a woman using Doritos to pick up a man, or anyone picking up someone of the same gender. Last year’s winners both involved children and their dogs, and both did particularly well. USA Today’s AdMeter ranking for the 2014 Super Bowl had Doritos’ “Cowboy Kid” ad at #3 and its “Time Machine” ad at #5, while Nielsen ranked Doritos at #7 in total tweets about Super Bowl ads.

There are weirder contest entries out there—their gallery of submissions is an easy time-suck—but the ones you see do their job just fine. After shotgunning 12 ads in a row, I can testify that I have a mighty urge for some Cool Ranch. It’s all about repetition, repetition, repetition.

In fact, the Doritos formula is so easily satirized that Newcastle Brown Ale, in a stunt not dissimilar from last year’s incredible “If We Made It” almost-Super-Bowl advertisement, made their own entry into the contest. Well, sort of. In their own 40-second spot, Newcastle pretends to craft a generic, broad comedy ad that masquerades as a promotion of Doritos (bleeped out in the video) chips while actually doing a pretty great job of showing a lot of Newcastle ale. A dopey husband ends up doing chores around the house in order to find the bag of chips his wife hid, all in a great plot to get him to clean. But the ad is so over-the-top obvious in its push for the beer—at one point, the guy wears a shirt that says “Newcastle is an excellent beer”—that it proves a pretty sharp critique of standard marketing techniques.

Of course, as Newcastle admits in their similarly satirical behind-the-scenes video, there was no way they could enter the contest, seeing as third-party brands are prohibited from entering. But just as they never intended to do a Super Bowl ad with Anna Kendrick last year (but actually sort of did—it’s all very meta), Newcastle reveals the constructed nature of the Doritos brand, while cementing their own brand image as a different breed of company.

It doesn’t hurt Doritos one bit, though. Newcastle gets A+ marks for its underdog strategy, but Doritos has proven that the over-done—the safe—is bold enough to get the job done. Doritos wants to be earnest in its self-love, so that’s what it gets. And this year, the obvious winner in that category (and my personal favorite entry) is “When Pigs Fly.” Clichéd turn of phrase, bold little kid, adorable animal? Check, check, check. Having all three trite motifs in one ad might be a turn off for some brands, but for Doritos, it’s checkmate.

(Editor’s note: Since the publication of this post, Doritos has finally ended its “Crash the Superbowl” campaign. You can learn more about why the campaign came to a halt here.) 

Image by Doritos

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