Wednesday, December 04, 2013

My Doritos Crash The Super Bowl VIII Top Twenty and Finalists Analysis

Much of Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl VIII contest has been confusing and misleading (Do votes and views count? What are the voting rules?) Why did the contest rules say semifinalists would be announced on December 14th, while the website said December 4th at 3 am, and now states "Semifinalists will be revealed shortly?" How does Doritos define "shortly?"

While thousands of contestants drive themselves nuts refreshing their browser waiting for new information, I thought I'd educate nervous contestants on the patterns of past years' finalists to give them an idea of where they stack up, and how to shape their entries for next year. And show you my completely subjective guestimates for the Top 20, while hopefully boosting the visibility of these worthy entries.

Dan L. over at Video Contest News is the go to amateur analyzer of winning trends in the Doritos Crash the Superbowl Contest. Check out his site, which posts helpful articles like "Will press cover help your chances in the Crash the Super Bowl contest?" Keep in mind he is not affiliated with the contest and has no secret insight...he's a self-made expert and one of the only people who has studied and written about the contest over the years. There are definitely patterns to be gleaned. But he isn't knowledgeable about everything Crash the Super Bowl: Dan told me one of my entries would be disqualified for using stock footage. Actually using clips from partner Video Block was encouraged this year, and I followed the rules to the letter including submitting the exact file names of the stock footage. So of course take his feedback with a grain of salt, but remember studying the contest you're entering is always the right idea.

With that preamble out of the way, it's time to disqualify me as an expert as well...I've in no way seen all the entries for Crash the Superbowl VIII (Some guestimate there were 14,000 worldwide entries because of the numbering entries received. Others claim they've counted and there are between 4,500-6,000 entries...many of which will be disqualified for not following simple directions like avoiding visible trademarks, using unauthorized music, and being the wrong length.). I've watched hundreds of entries from this year's highest rated category. There were winning and losing patterns that emerged. In addition, I've entered the contest the last three years, and have done my research going over all the finalists since year 1. The Crash the Super Bowl contest has been in play 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, with five finalists each year except 2010 (there were six finalists that year) for a total of twenty-six commercials to examine.

Dan is spot on in his Twitter advice that Doritos is looking for commercials that are: buzz worthy, outrageous, weird, wacky, with a punchline.

What doesn't get picked by Doritos? Gross. Raunchy. Sexist. Hateful. Bikinis. Wild parties. Zombies. Blood. War. Sad. Parodies of trademarked movies like The Hunger Games and Indiana Jones. Urinal settings. Animals hurt or threatened (unless it's a dog burying a cat). Bodily function humor. Some of those topics may fly for other brands during the Super Bowl, but Doritos keeps their brand middle America's version of clean.

Despite airing winners during the Super Bowl, the finalists almost never have a football or sport theme. Doritos continues to pick finalists that can air year round. 2013 Fashionista Daddy, Hot Wild Girls and 2007 A Chip Lover's Dream are the exceptions. The fashionista is missing out on a manly game of touch football with his friends, while in the last two you only hear audio implying a sport game on TV.

The lead characters are usually straight white males mid twenties to mid forties. If someone is getting a comeuppance, it better be funny and/or physically painful at a white man's expense. (See previous finalists Fetch, Goat 4 Sale, Hot Wild Girls, Duct Tape, Express Checkout, Underdog, Pug Attack, The Smackout, Kids These Days, Mouse Trap, The Chase, Power of the CrunchSnack Attack Samurai, Free Doritos.) Why? White guys are deemed "safe" to pick on because like it or not, white men are top in our culture. Traditionally, humor is based in taking out the piss out of the ruling class. Plus they're in the least amount of actual daily danger, so the threat of comical physical violence isn't offensive to most people. That may change if the contest goes on another decade, but for now it's something to think about while you write your commercials. Most of the finalists are white male leads, and you can capitulate to that to try or win. Or be bold: be the person so funny Doritos has to break their whitewash mould. House Sitting, and House Rules are past years' finalist exceptions to the white man lead, and they are very funny. House Rules is the only Doritos finalist to not feature a white actor at all. Non-white male co-leads appear in The Best PartFree Doritos, and Dog Park with the only prominent Asian (he's male). Kids These Days might have a Latino antagonist, but it's hard to tell and he reads pretty white. That's five out of twenty-six finalists with a non-white male lead/co-lead, or approximately 19%. Only House Rules features a female non-caucasian in a co-starring role.

Unlike most brands, Doritos doesn't do Super Bowl Sexy. Both Hot Wild Girls and Fetch punished horny superficial men hunting for sexy women with impending vicious animal attacks. That's very different from the tone of most Super Bowl ads, which amp up the sexy sexism to unbearable levels. The 2011 Adam and Eve commercial was as close as they got to racy, and that was pretty tame. You didn't see Eve's presumably hot body, and thematically it was still Bible Belt friendly. Birthday Wish makes a tame risqué joke about a stripper pole and ends with the doughy everyman dad swinging on it and yelling whee. Live the Flavor and Checkout Girl are the only flirtation-themed finalists, and their sexual heat is played to cartoonish comic effect. The 2009 Power of the Crunch starts with a woman's dress being ripped off by the male lead, but quickly escalates to larger criminal spree situations and ends in the perpetrator getting hit by a bus. Only Hot Wild Girls co-stars typical Super Bowl bimbos, and they appear for a few seconds in the tag as the punchline. Sex may sell, but Doritos is on to something because their finalists are consistently the most buzzed about Super Bowl commercials.

Doritos judges also don't pick cute, maudlin, low key. Or even sappy like last year's number one Super Bowl ad the Budweiser Clydesdales. Doritos has a wacky over-the-top brand, and so far they've stuck to it every contest (Casket). 

We all know that Doritos loves selecting crotch injuries, cute babies and crafty animals who come out on top. These elements are such tropes, even the 2014 entries making fun of it are now tropes. The only meta commercial about making Doritos commercials to ever crack the finalist ranks was the hysterical New Flavor Pitch back in 2009.

So what are some of the winning elements you haven't figured out yet? 

Settings: Over and over Doritos judges choose relatable setting like home, park, grocery store, gym and work. They are looking for fresh spins on their buyers' every day environments.

Smaller Patterns: Twice they've selected commercials co-starring "men in suits" (the industry term for stuntmen wearing animal costumes): Fetch and 2007's Mouse Trap. Two finalists have featured grandparent-aged co-stars: Sling Shot Baby, and Kids These Days. Four featured bizarre work situations: Too Delicious, Best Part, Birds of PreyFree Doritos, Five commercials take place in a world where Doritos cause magic: Too DeliciousFetchPower of the Crunch, House Sitter, and Hot Wild Girls, The Chase has the only onscreen cat. Only 2012 million dollar winner Man's Best Friend has an actual death (other commercials have cartoonish violence; they all show endings that let us know everyone survived). It's a trope that Doritos ads feature cute kids, but there are actually only five finalists that do: Road Chip, Fashionista Daddy, Sling Shot Baby, House Rules and Birthday Wish. Three finalists have no human female actors at all: Under Dog, Fetch and Goat 4 Sale. (House Sitting has a Voice Over by a female newscaster, Snack Attack Samurai has one female extra, while The Best Part shows the back of a female extra twice). Road Chip is the only commercial to not feature a male actor, though the mom is heard but barely seen. Though gender and sexual preference shaming are normal and widely accepted in American humor, only two fit this style: Fashionista Daddy stars men shamed for dressing up and having fun like women instead of playing manly football, and The Best Part features a man behaving sexually towards other men in the workplace to get to their Doritos crumbs. There has never been a finalist that utilized voice over or an announcer's voice.

Finalists always have a crystal clear story: if you can't pitch your story in a one sentence logline, keep writing before you film it. Your story must be in the traditional format of three acts (Pick up Syd Field's screenwriting book if you don't understand telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end). And you absolutely need a killer joke at the end! Snack Attack Samurai, Goat 4 Sale, and Power of the Crunch are great finalists to examine for story structure. Write a logline for each, as well as its beginning, middle, end, and joke at the end. Once you've don't that for a few of the finalists, look at your entry and be honest with yourself about its weaknesses. Rewrite it so it it's strong and clear.

Later Doritos contests stressed the money prize and chances to break into Hollywood (2013's prize to work on Transformers 4, 2014's prize to work on Avengers 2). But the only finalists who have are the team behind New Flavor Pitch (2009 Crash the Super Bowl teammates get their own TBS Show).

Can anyone win?

Possibly not, if you're not a white male filmmaker in your thirties living in Los Angeles. Despite hyping the chance for any consumer to win, past years' data show the typical Hollywood bro coming out on top. Only three out of 26 finalists have been female (The typical industry 8%. Insert my eyeroll here. As usual this does not represent the number of women directing, but the number of women's work chosen by the content gatekeepers who deem a female perspective abnormal in our society.). A staggering 19 out of 26 (73%) finalists lived in southern California. Only one was from New York, but several of the outliers are working filmindustry professionals in their respective cities.

More disturbingly, there is a very real and outlandishly implausible streak of repeat finalists that suggests a judging bias. Our friend Joe Taranto of the Taranto Brothers made the top five last year with Fetch, got an agent at a top five Hollywood agency, and declined entering this year. I'm dying to take Joe and Vinnie out to lunch ask if this bias is why, but I'm sure I won't be able to publish their answer. Unfortunately, anecdotal real-life help dries up in the Hollywood industry if you rat out your friends. When the dust settles I'll do another analysis to see if this disturbing trend continues with 2014's semi-finalists, and you may infer for yourself. Doritos should be called out on it and change their rules to disqualify these contestants from entering again. It's one thing for a finalist who doesn't win money to get a second shot; it's a completely different thing for WINNERS who hang out and party with Doritos execs every year in their corporate Super Bowl box to keep taking the Top 5 spots. These white male repeat offenders are no longer nameless faceless contestants in this contest; they're Doritos "family" and shouldn't be eligible.

The great news is content is still king: your script trumps everything. TV production quality is necessary, but many flashy expensive entries don't become finalists. You don't need to spend crazy amounts of money to film your commercial. You don't need movie stars, or professional editing that includes digital effects. But as the contest has progressed through the years, the production quality has become more stringent. Now you do need professional sound, a tripod, and a real movie camera. Several finalists have had slow motion, so you might want to use a camera that can do slo-mo like a Canon 5D Mark iii (which can be rented for $114 a day plus shipping). Last year's finalists released their budgets as $300-$5,000 They all clearly used prosumer cameras, most likely RED which costs $1,000 a day to rent, needs professional lighting, and takes a prosumer computer to be able to edit.

As you go into thinking about your entry for year nine (IF they do the contest again), remember that what you need to spend the most time on is writing a relatable, crazy, absurdly funny story!

In keeping with these patterns, here are the top 20 contenders I've seen:


You're So Old
I think this will be a top 5 finalist. We've got a positive portrayal of the chips, a funny and outrageous story with a beginning middle and end with the strongest point being the lol punchline at the end, a cute kid, and the joke is at the expense of a middle aged white man. Winner winner chicken dinner! 

The Doritos Bowl
Unique, outlandish, and memorable. Definitely the Doritos brand. But it's a sports theme so it wouldn't fit the pattern of being a finalist.

The Chiplicator
Great to see a smart little girl, and the ending button is spot on. Reminds me of winner Fashionista Daddy, while still being different.

Stadium Power
Great play on the Super Bowl's bizarre power outage. Very clever, and a solid joke at the ending. Could this one be the second meta finalist ever chosen?

Close Encounter of the Nachos Kind
This one tickles me every time, and it looks great. I'm rooting for it for top 5.

Doritos Dance Tutorial!!!
They always pick outlandish, memorable, buzz worthy, bizarre, safe jokes that aren't offensive...I could definitely see the airing the rest of the year during kids' TV shows. Not sure about the Super Bowl.

Quality Control
I adore this one and have watched it many times. Very clever, and the robot costume is great even though the costume is reminiscent of 2011's Birthday Wish.

Sibling Rivalry
Super bizarre and well executed. It might be hurt by having two female protagonists and no men...Doritos likes its white male leads and might pick Doritos Have Kick V. 2 instead. (Is a fighting fetus the new zombie entry?)

Wishing Well V.2
Crazy, fresh, bold, and weird. Perfect match for Doritos brand.

Mommy Daddy Time
Of all the sexual innuendo entries, I loved this one. I think it walks the line of being about something risque without actually being something parents would be upset about having their kid see. But it might be too sweet.

Doritos Fairy
Very absurd, and they don't usually pick female protagonists. But I love that they invent a new Doritos mythology AND have a burly guy in pastel drag. A nice echo of Fashionista Daddy while still being a new story and joke.

Doritos Truck Heist
Stealing Doritos and running from the police was an idea several did...but none with such a strong punchline. I LOL every time!

Space Monkey
Bunch of Gravity-type entries this year. But this is the only one with monkey puppets!

Promised Hand
Definitely fits Dorito's penchant for outlandish and weird. What do you think; would it get people talking like Goat 4 Sale?

Nacho Dealership
Funny, inventive, great ending. Solid contender!

Doritos Push
Not as gross as some of the other baby birth ones, and the vending machine punchline is spot on.

Cowboy Kid
I think it's a contender for top 20, but not for the finals. It looks great but the end punchline is soft. Not funny enough, and when you think about it would that really be the mom's reaction?

The Care Package
As Dan pointed out on his Twitter account @Dan_VCN this one might be too dark. But the execution is terrific, and man if you've ever hung out with nurses you know this ain't the half of it. ;p Real life hospital humor is pitch black.

I think it's a tad too close to my friends The Taranto Brothers' top five 2013 entry Fetch. Then again, Fetch was a lot like the previous year's Hot Wild Girls. So maybe taking a previous finalist and putting your spin on that joke is a golden strategy? This certainly fits the Doritos mold.

For the Birds Version 2
This one made the competitor in me sad when I first saw it because it's so damn good. Clearly done by a professional, what with the great effects. Looks like a top 5 to me.


Best World Entry:
A Man's Gotta Do V. 1
It's soooo UK. I love their sense of humor.

Best Amateur:
Pre-Game War
No fancy production values or editing, just a funny story about two grandmas playing war and battling for the last Doritos chip. Wish it had a better punchline at the end!

Best Professional:
Personally I think these ads should be disqualified when they're clearly done by industry vets. How about we make a no After Effects software rule? Luckily for true outsiders, Doritos doesn't usually go for high budget flare, but for story execution. This one has both:

Best Disqualified Ad:
(Someone forgot to turn off Youtube's ad generator...oopsie!)
Beware of Doritos Dog!
I will always laugh at Monty Python references. Always. That dog's got big teef!

So Close But Needed a Stronger Ending:
Grandma Loves Doritos


Want to see the two commercials my sister Brenda and I entered? We made them for the cost of the Doritos bags. They demonstrate the two biggest problems: Not going far enough, and needing a punchier ending.

Top Dog Hero
Dan L. said it needed a stronger ending.

Call of the Wild
Wish we could have put a bear in at the end like we wanted, but Video Blocks only had that one shot from far away that we used in the middle.

For more movies by The Fies Sisters, click here.

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