There's nothing in the Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" rules that says the consumer-made ads have to be good. But they do—according to the judging criteria—have to be original.
One of the 10 finalists unveiled today may have a bit of a problem in that department. That's because the plot of Jason Johnson's "Trouble in the Back Seat" is very similar to that of "Drama Queen," a well-known ad from director Rogier Hesp (produced by TWBA/PHS Helsinki) that won the Young Director Award at Cannes in 2010.
In both ads, after parents get pulled over by the police, kids in the backseat hold up "Help!" signs, pretending they've been kidnapped. (In the Doritos ad, a brother and sister are mad at Dad for not handing over his chips. In Hesp's spot, which advertised the Young Director Award itself, the girl in the backseat is simply "Born to create drama.")
Adweek wrote about the "Drama Queen" ad when it was made, as did many of the ad blogs. The YouTube version has 4.5 million views. It's not obscure.
See both ads below.
UPDATE: Jason Johnson, the maker of "Trouble in the Back Seat," offers a little more context for his ad below.
When I was coming up with ideas for the ad, I wanted to do something around kids getting the upper hand on their parent. That led me to think of experiences I have had with my kids where I tease them with food from the front seat while we drive home from the store. The concept of a kid getting the parent in trouble with a police officer came to my mind. As I thought about it, it seemed kind of familiar. I wasn't sure if I'd seen or heard something before like that, so I went online to see if there was anything similar. I couldn't find anything, so I didn't think much of it and put the ad together.
As I moved along in the contest, people began to comment on how my ad was similar to another video link. I saw the video link and realized that the clip did look familiar. When I was told my ad was going to be a finalist, I let them know that there was a video that had similarities to mine and I didn't have to continue in the contest if that was going to be an issue. My ad continued through the contest and once it was over I felt I needed to reach out to Mr. Hesp and apologize if part of my ad had been influenced by his video. I was able to contact Mr. Hesp and he was very kind and understanding of the situation. I felt impressed to offer him part of the prize money I received as a finalist, but he was happy to have us both just move on.
According to the "Crash the Super Bowl" rules, "originality and creativity" are supposed to count for 40 percent of the judging score. ("Adherence to the creative assignment" counts for 30 percent, and "Overall appeal to the general public as a Doritos Super Bowl ad" counts for 30 percent.) Doritos picked the 10 finalists, meaning the brand either didn't know how similar "Trouble in the Back Seat" is to "Drama Queen"—or didn't care.
It might be a coincidence. Johnson talks about his inspiration for the ad in the video below, and certainly doesn't mention an industry-targeted Finnish spot from five years ago:
Still, it could be awkward for Doritos if one of its in-game spots is deemed to be a rip-off by ad people. And that could happen. Doritos will air two of the 10 finalists on the Super Bowl. The brand will pick one, but the other—the grand-prize winner—is meant to be selected by public vote.