04 February 2007

The Big Day arrives: Doritos® commercial champion crowned

Okay, it's The Big Day. All rejoice around the TV, prepare your spicy buffalo wings, your fried green tomato slices with salsa, your pizzas, your chips and guacamole, your steaks and hot dogs, your chilis and BBQs, God only knows what else, and, of course, (depending on your taste) your chilled adult beverage of choice. It is, after all, Super Bowl Sunday and today we find out the winner.

Now before you dear readers get the wrong idea, let me quantify my statement above: I could care less who wins the Super Bowl game itself. Truly, I am not a football fan really and have never really understood its religious 'powers' on so many here. (Then again, a lot of football fans could say the same for my love for college basketball and NASCAR®.) I'm sure one of the teams, be it the Indianapolis Colts or the Chicago Bears, will win and cause their many fans to break out in celebration. I can hope, though, for every one's sake the game is not a one-sided blowout as these things tend to be. I have a slight fondness for Chicago over Indianapolis just because the hardy Bears suffer through playing at Soldier Field (where they're not today, thank God, as the wind chill this weekend in Chicago is approximately -30° at night), although Indianapolis has that Peyton Manning fella I watched when his Dad, Archie, played for the Saints. (And damn, wasn't it a shame that the Saints couldn't make it this year?? New Orleans needs something...anything...to give the city some encouragement and pride.) Yet, I will watch the game...well, most of it anyway...with great enthusiasm. Why, you ask??? Not for the overblown halftime show to be certain, and not for the hoopla that's already on air hours before the game commences. No, I watch for the real stars of the program: the commercials.

Truth be told, I once considered a degree in advertising, as words and (to a lesser degree) sales enthusiasm seem to come a bit naturally. And Lord knows I have the 'think outside the box' angle down. I don't know why I talked myself out of the study, but I guess I didn't consider advertising a 'real' profession to get into and went for the more serious path of health care instead. I was interested for certain...am still...about how the whole 'levers of manipulation' occur within the buying psyche. I firmly believe we would all be much wiser consumers if we all understood the basic principles of what is being used on us, but that's a different entry for a rainier day.

But I also watch because I was a child who quite happily adopted my TV as my babysitter. Back in the day (1970s-1980s) in the rural Midwest, cable TV, video games, and the internet were figments of a wild imagination. Everybody you knew you already had seen at school, so there was also no need to burn up the phone lines. And while I'm sure there were pedophiles somewhere out there, none of them ever visited us. So kids from about age 10 on could come home and watch TV alone (all whopping 3 channels, 2 of which signed off daily after Nightline with Ted Koppel and the extraordinary interviewer Tom Snyder), without a care. Some days you could switch it up and listen to the radio instead (which is how I became enthralled with the BBC, mimicking their snooty accents while lounging on now-retro shag carpeting, learning European history...seemed to 'set the mood'). Otherwise, Moms and Dads (mine included) would check in from work by phone, chores would get done in their absence, and book reports would be written in preparation for review. Little did I know how idyllic this way of life was at the time...I understand the same is practically unheard of now considering the crime and/or too many entertainment distractions.

As a consequence, I learned to love watching the little fuzzy images and loud colours and weird noises from the mammoth Montgomery Ward console...so shoot me. I don't care how many times I saw a rerun of "The Andy Griffith Show" (Opie, aka Ron Howard, was a model), I was always fascinated about how one program bled into commercials, and then into another, and then into another, and then eventually into the live evening news. The whole thinking process of it all had me enraptured...I was far more interested in what was going on behind the camera than in front of it, really, but you don't see that side usually.

Fast forward almost 30 years on now. I am overwhelmed by my little TV box now, but it's because so much of it is (a) crap that should never have been made, or (b) have too many other choices that demand my attention (the mundane stuff like laundry, cleaning, or finishing up work at home). The days of paying keen interest to the TV as a whole have long since left, and I try and tape all the shows I do like so I can enjoy them at a better time some nights. Except for the rare occasion when I work sitting on the floor in front of the telly (the orange shag has been replaced by a nice brownish berber), the similarities between the Me Then and the Me Now are gone.

Except for Super Bowl Sunday. For one day a year, advertisers go back in their huddles and come out with some of their best, or at least some of their most imaginative, work they ever do. (God bless NASCAR®, because their ads at least seem to share some of that 'original' mentality through their long season...another reason why they've generated such a loyal support base for their advertisers.) For many, this is the one and only day some of these spots will air. And, unlike the early 1980s when I started to watch in earnest, the ad prices have skyrocketed...some of the ads this year are well in excess of $2.5 million (USD) for a 30-second spot. And that's just the broadcasting costs...and it does not include production costs.

And apparently that's when some genius at Doritos® chips had a brainstorm: have regular people submit ads for their Super Bowl spot this year. Submissions would be received, people could vote online, and the winner announced on the Big Day. A YouTube, if you will, for a manufactured chips spot, but with pretty open rules. Took a little risk they did. Forget about "American Idol" (which, like Little Steven, I positively hate)...show me the commercials that didn't make the finals. I am sure there are some gems...both good and bad...in there.

Thankfully, the promo went off like wildfire, and some great ones made the finals, all of which you can see on their webpage: Crash the Super Bowl. While voting has closed, I'm thrilled to see all of the submissions are really well done. And who knows, maybe it's the start of somebody's career in advertising?? The finalists bag $10,000 (USD), and a trip to see the Super Bowl today in person in Miami. (I wish Doritos® had coughed up at least $100,000, as Lord knows they'll get it back and then some with this promotion, but that's just me.) Additionally, the winners, of course, will see their commercial airing worldwide at about 6pm EST. (I don't know if the winner is a 'one shot' run or will be shown multiple times yet.) In what seems like an obvious approach in today's technology-driven world of entertainment, finally a major company backs the little guy's invention and originality. Super Bowl ads come, Super Bowl ads go, but here's an opportunity for a 'nobody' to become a 'somebody'...on the most advertised day in American television viewing, even if it's just one day. While I've never particularly loved Doritos® one way or another, I'm willing to give them some extra credit for this promo. Kudos to all involved.

My personal fave? A local group from Cary (yes, Cary, folks, not known to be the creative hotbed suburb of this area, but more like the affluent soccer-mom ranch-house Wysteria Lane-kinda place) did a corker that I find exceptionally well done. It's titled "Live the Flavor".

"Live the Flavor" ©5 Point Productions, Cary, NC.

I'm not sure they will win, though, as two other finalists are equally strong. But the premise is classic and, I think, really funny. And it gets the job done by selling the product and doesn't insult my intelligence in doing so, what a concept. God love'em also for this: they did the whole thing with a crew of 5, did it in 4 days, and for a total budget of $12.79 (USD). I don't care if you know anything about film or not, but those numbers indicate some highly motivated professionals-in-training. I've been on 'low budget' camera shots where we spent that much alone on the coffee and doughnuts. And it took us almost as long to figure out 'which' doughnuts everybody would eat.

You can read more about these upstarts on their blog "The Doritos Story". I love this blog, as the group is chronicling their press junkets, local news coverage, and meet-and-greets with company bigwigs. Win, lose, or draw, I'm so proud of these individuals for taking the leap that so many of us don't. And I'm fascinated about the whole process for them...for the first time in a very long time that I've been inspired about anything related to TV. I wish them, and all of these great submissions, the very best. And you know I'll be joyfully watching tonight.

Update 2/4/2007 11:18pm: The Colts beat The Bears in an absolute downpour of a game...it essentially became a measure of who could hold onto the ball most of the time. Additionally, there were some good ads this year...I really liked the talking lions for Taco Bell® discussing the correct pronunciation of 'carne asada' and the Blockbuster® one featuring the 'clicked mouse' (even though the PETA people are writing letters even now, I suspect)...but not really as many as I would have liked. You can see the ones you missed and vote in another contest at AOL (who knew they'd actually have a segment featuring nothing but the ads? Finally, someone listened!) And the gang from 5 Point Productions in Cary??? Those lucky devils are bringing home the top prize, too...they won the contest.

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