Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Super Bowl Savvy

Welcome to your latest Super Bowl creative nightmare.

It turns out that one of the five finalists in the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, a 30-second contender for a $2.4 million slot on the Big Game called “Live the Flavor,” was produced for $12.79.

Dale Backus, its 21-year-old writer and director, who explained that the entire production budget pretty much was spent on buying Doritos, also offered to amend that high-twelves figure to $15 if you want to count the bag he ate for lunch.

And while Dale the Doritos eater’s effort about a car crash, should it air, is not exactly going to eat the industry’s lunch or unlock a new time/space continuum during SB XLI (it looks mighty primitive, which is part of its charm), it is fun to watch.

Doritos, whose agency of record is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, got almost 1,100 fully produced, 30-second entries in response to its challenge. (Go to and take a look. Voting ends Jan. 19.) What struck me at first was that the finalists were surprisingly good. All of them could run on TV—if not the Super Bowl—as none were cringe-worthy. That said, however, the other surprise is how conventional the spots turned out to be and how savvy (and unembarrassed) the commercials are about selling. Indeed, many creatives working at the great agencies these days would be pained to push the brand as overtly as these entrants do.

Take “Checkout Clerk.” A clever idea combined with wonderful casting, the spot features a delightfully comic female supermarket clerk emoting about each thing she rings up—especially if it’s Doritos. A mustachioed customer lays down his booty of Doritos at her station when she’s in high form. “Fiery Habanero,” she screams, pronouncing each syllable. “Hot!” By the time she gets to “Blazing Salsa and Ranch,” the scene practically combusts.

The spot was created by a woman named Kristen Dehnert, a location scout for advertising who really wants to direct.

What looks to be the probable winner, “Mousetrap,” a clever spot involving a fanatic devotion to cheese (many of the entrants seemed to choose nacho cheese to obsess on), is the work of Billy Federighi, a film school grad, and his co-director, Brett Snider, who already have a user-generated spot for Converse on-air. Do you sense a trend within a trend here? Is “consumer-generated professional” an oxymoron?

While it’s admirable that big brands are responding to cultural currents and, ostensibly, ceding “control” to the consumer, that’s not entirely the case with these contests. It’s one thing when a clip of Diet Coke and Mentos making a fountain bubbles up organically on YouTube and creates a sensation. But that’s as rare as the percentage of clips on YouTube that are truly brilliant.

Doritos is hardly alone in the consumer-generated content arena at this year’s Super Bowl. (All the brands involved have already been rewarded with enough publicity to make the marketing move a success, by the way.) The NFL sponsored an American Idol-like contest, inviting people to pitch their ideas for a commercial and then taping the pitches, which in itself turned into a marketing bonanza, making for several amusing spots and great content on the Web site. The best one has been selected (it is very good, and unsurprisingly, came from a guy who works in marketing). Chevrolet is looking for pitches from college students (most of whom are studying advertising and marketing, no doubt) and will also produce the best one, although both are cagey about whether any will, in the end, actually air during the game.

Another Doritos finalist, Jared Cicon, is a wedding photographer who had never before used a video camera. Last year he bought a camera and some editing software, and went to work. He says he gained nine pounds during the process, all from eating the client’s corn chips.

If nothing else, they’re selling Doritos to the filmmakers. And by involving their family and friends in the voting, the circles of consumers who feel personally invested in “pre-selling” a spot grows and grows. So do the numbers of viewers watching intently to see if their picks show up.

While covering President Bush’s latest speech, ABC’s Charlie Gibson—or maybe it was NBC’s minor media godhead, Brian Williams—said, “The genius of America is in its ordinary people.” What the Doritos finalists prove is that while it’s great to think of consumer-generated content as the ultimate revolutionary democratization of the media, in the end the people participating are not your average Joes. Some of the respondents are devoted to the product, sure, and want to express their feelings in a personal and authentic way. Those are the people who don’t get their spots on the Super Bowl. The winners are the media-savvy ones who are mostly devoted to getting famous. And who can blame them when technology has made that possible—and they see advertising as a glamorous, far-off profession? (I guess they never heard of getting a book together and applying at agencies.)

These contests will make for fun stunts for the Super Bowl and then jump the shark in their own way.

Ultimately, consumer-generated content is not going to raise the bar on creativity. But it will have a sobering effect on budgets. Especially the catering.