Chips Off the Old Block

I’ve just looked at the six finalists in Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, and before going any further, I’d like to ask: Do I really have to pick one?

Chosen from more than 4,000 entries by Doritos marketing people and agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, among others, these six (presented via mash-up in the  video player below) really are that bad. Basically, the choices boil down to how you like your main character — smacked, zapped, bloodied or strangled. Oh, there’s also a fat slob who’s voluntarily been buried alive in a coffin full of Doritos. Hey, even Homer Simpson didn’t think of that one!

There’s no use bemoaning the uniformity of lame ideas here. Cheap production budgets produce cheap laughs. (And obviously, particularly since the advent of YouTube, the American public has been fed a steady diet of violent and dumb video jokes over the years.) The end product, the Super Bowl spots, are the Oreos atop the cake, the icing on the salty snack.

Still, the reality is that the Doritos contest — which this year raised its potential prize money to $5 million, depending on USA Today Ad Meter results — is an off-the-charts success in terms of building buzz, engagement and plain love for the brand. And that’s year-round, not just tied to the $8 million or so purchase of network spots for the game. (The brand buys time for the top three vote-getters.) In that way, Doritos has become the very essence of a modern advertiser.

The term user-generated content sounds pretty quaint, but it was introduced to the Super Bowl just three years ago, when it was the cool new trend — with General Motors and the NFL also doing the contest thing. Doritos is the only one that’s stuck with it consistently, and it pretty much owns the category by now, though CareerBuilder is doing something similar this year — and has also posted finalists online for voting.

Looking at both sites, it’s clear that what unites the American consumer is crotch-based humor. And the CareerBuilder filmmakers are more interested in breaking wind than breaking new creative ground.

Here, in a nutshell, is why we need real newspapers, not just bloggers, and real ad agencies, not just amateurs trying it at home. Depth. If Apple’s “1984” were made by these people, you could forget about allusions to a famous book (what?) or political philosophy (huh?). The sledgehammer would hit Big Brother in the balls.

Last year’s Doritos winners, Joe and Dave Herbert, were a pair of unemployed brothers “from nowhere,” as they liked to say (actually, Indiana), who became insta-celebs. They not only got their spot on the world stage, they earned a million bucks for nabbing the No. 1 spot on the USA Today Ad Meter.

Their spot showed a guy predicting “free Doritos for the whole office” while holding what he claimed to be a “crystal ball” in the break room. It was actually a snow globe, and he lobbed it at a vending machine, shattering the glass, so all the Doritos fell out and proved him to be psychic. But the coup de grace was still to come.

Another worker dude takes the ball to inquire about his future. As he shakes it, it slips out of his hands and hits his boss in the crotch. The boss, a miserable old guy, doubles over on the floor. Hilarity ensues. Compared to this year’s crop, that ad was positively Bergman-esque.

Most of the credit for this year’s ideas should go to Mo, Larry, Curley & Associates. There’s yet another entry involving a vending machine, and one with a dog who puts his no-bark collar on a cruel human. The faux corpse munching on chips in his coffin is an insult to people who value a Christian funeral, never mind an affront to sexy, non-slobby vampires everywhere.

The least bad spot, which gets my vote, is “House Rules.” It stars an African-American single mom and her cute young son. That in itself is a refreshing change from the young white dudes beating each other up. But it’s not entirely immune to the same kind of smack-happy humor.

A beau visits, and when he helps himself to a chip, the kid whacks him, hard. “Put it back,” the kid says, with his finger right in the guy’s face. “Keep your hands off my mama, and keep your hands off my Doritos.”

At a time when smaller, faster-moving advertisers are taking the place of the legendary Super Bowl ad biggies like Pepsi and FedEx, and when GoDaddy.com has become a fatherly figure to the scrappy newcomers, this sort of contest is a no-lose proposition. It gets people interested in advertising — and in the process of entering the contest, or knowing someone who did, they see firsthand how hard it is to do well.

And it generates its own cycle of passionate, grassroots interest: At game time, viewers will no doubt sit back and say, “That’s the one they chose? The one my cousin’s friend’s son-in-law did was so much better!”

And another user generator, trying to come up with a Doritos joke, is born.

See also:

“Chrysler Returns to Super Bowl”

“Turner Makes High-Profile Super Bowl Play”

“Boost Mobile Preps Super Bowl Ad”

“Relaunched Pop-Secret Heads to Super Bowl”