Demystifying the ads: Crash the Super Bowl

When we recently said goodbye to Crash the Super Bowl with a send-off worthy of this landmark program, along with the emotions came a lot of memories to reflect upon. As we look ahead to introduce a bold, new legacy program for Doritos, one question nags at me: exactly what made the ads from our fans such a smashing success? I could point to any number of things, but arriving at a definitive answer still evaded me. So I reached out to the agency that created Crash, The Marketing Arm, and asked them to shed some light on the ad creative through the lens of behavioral economics. Here is what they had to say…

Advertising has strived to understand why consumers make the decisions they do in an attempt to tap into that mystery and drive preference for our client’s products. We get close, but if we were honest with ourselves, more of our successes have been driven by intuition than lessons learned from actual consumers. 
The intuition that we lean into in strategy development and big ideas resides in the same brain space as the intuition that drives consumer choice. The field of behavioral economics has brought a spotlight to intuition and built a framework to rationally explain it. 
If you ask any of the winners of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ads why they think so many people loved their ad, they would most likely say they just produced an ad they would like to see, or maybe “it just felt right.” But the biases uncovered in behavioral economics tell us that the ads felt right to make because of the unconscious biases that drive us all. And ultimately, we believe, those biases drove the popularity of the winning Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ads. 
We reviewed all the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl winning spots in the context of these behavioral economics learnings and identified the biases that most likely led to their popularity, a few of which are highlighted here.
Several of the winning ads leveraged the misdirect, a popular advertising framework used even outside consumer-created ads. The power of the misdirect lies within the biases our brains use to quickly classify a situation as safe or unsafe so that it may move on to another one of the 35,000 decisions it will need to make that day. 
The first bias that gives power to the misdirect has been labeled in the behavioral economics field as the stereotyping bias. Appropriately named, when we have experienced a type of person in the same way several times, our brain determines all people similar in appearance will behave similarly. 
So in Sling Baby (2012), as the viewer recognizes the grandmother and baby, their brain is unconsciously sending a message that these two are innocent individuals being bullied by a Doritos-loving boy. Because you believe this, when the grandmother uses the baby’s jumper as a slingshot, hurtling him to grab the Doritos, the shock of the inconsistent behavior causes your brain to pay attention and reassess the situation. Now you’re actively engaging with an ad that you were just about to ignore.   
Misdirection also makes use of the normalcy bias, the refusal to believe that something that has never happened before will happen, and Mouse Trap (2008) expertly demonstrates the power of this bias. After baiting a mousetrap with Doritos and placing it in front of a small mouse hole in the wall, a man watches patiently for what he (and we) believe will be a normal mouse to pop out. However, a giant, human-sized mouse bursts through the wall and attacks the man, stealing his Doritos. “Didn’t see that coming” is the shock-value response delivered by the normalcy bias.
We’ve all heard that puppies and babies are solid attention-getters, and many Crash ads leveraged that general principle. But it’s actually how they’re used that made these winners. We are all subconsciously biased to characterize animals as possessing human-like traits, emotions and intentions, a bias that behavioral economics has coined as anthropomorphism.
This year’s Doritos Crash the Super Bowl winner, Doritos Dogs, tapped into that bias, showcasing a group of dogs that crave Doritos trying to break into a grocery store to get them. A wily manager catches them every time, until they brilliantly scheme to dress as humans and purchase them like everyone else. If people had not been willing to believe wholeheartedly that dogs crave Doritos, it never would have made the final selection pool.
OK, that’s probably all the behavioral economics you want to hear about for now, so we have identified the biases inherent in other Doritos Crash the Super Bowl winners below. You will see that there is some overlap, but thankfully behavioral economics scholars have kept their labels pretty self-explanatory.

Stereotype Bias: Middle Seat (2015)
Normalcy Bias: Pug Attack (2012)
Anthropomorphism: Man’s Best Friend (2012), Goat 4 Sale (2013)
Ingroup Bias: Live the Flavor (2007)
Confirmation Bias: Time Machine (2014)

As usual, I can always count on my friends at The Marketing Arm to shed some strategic light on consumers’ behaviors. Thank you to everyone at TMA who contributed to this post & more importantly to the success of Crash the Super Bowl program for the past decade.