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.

Lessons from Ten Years of Crash The Super Bowl

Most of you have heard by now that we’ve decided this will be the final year for the Doritos® Crash the Super Bowl promotion (CTSB), marking the end of a decade of unprecedented industry recognition and success. For those unaware, CTSB provides consumers with the opportunity to create a Doritos® ad that might air during the Super Bowl, and is credited as being one of the first catalysts of the consumer-generated content phenomenon back in 2007. Like many marketing programs of significance, the story of CTSB -- from “almost didn’t happen” to celebrating its 10th anniversary -- is filled with interesting twists and turns, as well as valuable lessons that are worth sharing here.

Fight for Great Ideas

CTSB was created by our promotional agency, The Marketing Arm (TMA), and originally presented to the Doritos® brand team and PR executives in 2006. The initial reaction by the marketing leadership team was negative. They were primarily concerned that consumers would not be able to deliver creative that would be worthy of airing during the Super Bowl, by far the nation’s most important advertising platform. After considerable deliberation and debate, the brand team and TMA brought back the idea for consideration, and fortunately, it was approved.  

Don’t Play It Safe   
When Doritos® and TMA presented CTSB to the NFL for the first time, we learned that several other Super Bowl advertisers were planning to air consumer-generated ads. However, in each of these cases, the advertiser played it safe by limiting the role of the consumer and hedging their bets by having the ads filmed and produced by a traditional advertising agency. Doritos, on the other hand, gave its consumers complete control over creative and production. By handing over that trust to consumers to deliver outstanding ads, CTSB was widely recognized for transforming the marketing landscape. CTSB was the first program to truly empower consumers in a way that was authentic and meaningful.  

Stay True to Yourself

After the extraordinary success of the first CTSB program in 2007, which included a spot called “Live the Flavor” that finished 4th in the USA Today Ad Meter, the brand team decided to change the programming focus. In 2008, we asked consumers to create a music video instead of a commercial. While we are proud the music video that aired helped launch the music career of a very talented artist, it did not play as effectively as a brand advertisement aimed at generating brand equity.  Fortunately, Doritos also aired a consumer spot called “Mouse Trap,” created the previous year, that ranked 4th in the Ad Meter, which saved CTSB from extinction. This was the last time the brand would venture away from the core idea centered on consumer-generated commercials. 

These are just a few of the important lessons we’ve learned from this remarkable program, which has won every major industry award, generated over 32,000 ads for the brand from 31 countries, produced four #1 ads in the USA Today Ad Meter, and awarded more than $7 million to support aspiring filmmakers and passionate fans.    

Want better engagement? Take a chance

As a brand, if you truly want to connect with your fans, sometimes it helps to break the bonds of ‘traditional’ in advertising to truly reach them. Take our Doritos fans, for instance. Our core audience plays on the bleeding edge of mobile technology, and to get in front of them, we need to meet them on their level instead of expecting them to come to ours. 

Driving engagement for Doritos Roulette presented us with an interesting challenge. This represented one of the most unique product experiences ever: in each handful of nacho cheese chips, one was extremely spicy, despite looking identical to all others. 

The product was one-of-a-kind and too novel to promote via the usual means. It didn’t even feature any promotional messaging. The standard framework just wouldn’t work this time. We decided that Twitter was the only appropriate path for this launch scenario.

With that in mind, we created #DoritosRoulette, an online game which seamlessly addressed four objectives central to this product:

1) Authenticity: You take a chance every time you grab a Roulette chip; that same product experience had to come across in the program. Similarly, with #DoritosRoulette you could win or get burned with every turn.

2) Engagement: We created an interface where fans could choose their own prizes and tag their friends—the burn prize remained a secret until the tweet was sent. Here are some of the user interface designs, in case you missed it:

3) Awareness: Word of mouth is always your best friend. For Roulette, we leveraged this by letting players tag three friends, who could in turn tag three more and increase their chances. Pay it forward with boldness, fans pay it back with attention. 

4) Digital-Only: Daily drawings on Twitter engaged thousands of consumers and generated millions of impressions. One day, we brought live action to #DoritosRouletteLive with Periscope, giving fans the chance to ‘win or get burned’ by the roulette wheel in real time. 

#DoritosRoulette was the single most successful limited-time-only promotion Doritos has ever done. The graphic along the side provides a snapshot of the program and really illustrates how adapting to your consumer can instantaneously transform the face of a product. 

Observations from Super Bowl 49

WOW… what a game that turned out to be! For a guy like me, it’s hard to pick which floored me more: the game itself, or the record rating of 49.6, which beat last year (47.6), as well as the previous high from New Orleans (48.1). 

Aside from Katy Perry’s “flamin’ hot” entrance, dancing sharks, a heartbreaking call (depending where your team loyalties lie), and an insurance ad that left people speechless (momentarily at least), the most noteworthy thing about year’s Super Bowl was how much more digital-first it was than ever before. I think we can all agree on one thing  -- “watching” the Super Bowl no longer means what it used to.

The Broadcast Has Gone Broadband
The most noticeable difference was that much of NBC’s broadcast of the game didn’t involve broadcasting. 

  • First-ever free streaming to laptop, PC, or tablet
  • Instant posting and curation of the ads to a Tumblr page as they aired
  • First-ever livestream of the halftime show

This marks the beginning of a redefinition of the Super Bowl “stage” and “moment,” since audiences can no longer be considered “captive” as they jump freely from platform to platform. 

Tech Takes Advantage
This change in content consumption and engagement is why we saw tech media brands like YouTube and Facebook leaning in with new offerings.

  • YouTube hosted for the first time a YouTube SB Halftime Show, with YouTube stars, fake spots, stunts and other entertainment to lure attention (and future marketers). I am anxious to see how much viewership it attracted versus the 118 million who tuned into the Pepsi Katy Perry Half time show on NBC.
  • Facebook, interestingly, conducted real-time tracking of user posts during the game, and used that data to offer hyper-targeted ads to advertisers.  Again, a first. But I have to wonder if this is truly a scalable game changer or if it merely adds more meaningless second-screen clutter. 

It’s the Game Around the Game
For us as advertisers, capitalizing on our large SB investment has now clearly become more about the social world surrounding the big game, than the in-game time itself. This is exactly why we saw so many brands leaking teasers of their ads. In fact, last year:

  • 45% of Americans sought out ads before kickoff
  • 160 MM Super Bowl ad views were recorded on YouTube before the game even began

Of course, our Doritos team had to bring some levity to the mad rush to release ads early. In signature Doritos style, as always.

Hacking the Super Bowl
Let’s face it, “teasers” have become table stakes. The best advertisers attempted radically different creative strategies to break through. 

  • Bud Light built a life-sized Pac-Man experience in LA and used pics and videos of the set to promote their spot, “Coin,” in which one unsuspecting dude was invited to play.
  • PepsiCo launched a reality show featuring Food Network star Anne Burrell, and eight culinary students in a cooking competition.
  • Hacking or Crashing the Super bowl is something, we on the Doritos team have pioneered for the past 9 years. Doritos consumers were engaged for 5 months leading up to game day. The engagement we got from asking consumers to create the ads, narrowing down the 10 finalists, and then asking the consumers to vote on the ad that should air on Super Bowl Sunday has always made it a stand out “hack” of the super bowl.
The 10 Crash the Super Bowl finalists at the Doritos suite getting ready to find out in real time who the winner was.

The 10 Crash the Super Bowl finalists at the Doritos suite getting ready to find out in real time who the winner was.

  • Carnival and GoDaddy borrowed a page from the Doritos playbook and employed voting to engage audiences around their Super Bowl efforts. Carnival had fans vote on one of four spots to air, and GoDaddy had people vote on the name of a puppy in their ad (“Buddy” won). 

Getting Serious
I also noticed a creative trend with brands getting more serious, making a statement to the Super Bowl audience rather than eliciting a laugh. In social media, the strategy of these brands was to start real conversations about real issues. 

  • Toyota had an ad this year called “To be a Dad” which strikes a more serious, emotional chord. 
  • Dove had a spot called “Real Strength,” a recut of a Father’s Day spot with a new hashtag. 
  • That aforementioned insurance ad from Nationwide warrants a mention here too, since it forced everyone to think of their own child dying. 

As I take these observations back with me to Dallas to derive new insights and strategies, I can’t help but welcome this changing landscape and the challenges it brings. We may have lost the traditional paradigm of audiences “glued to the TV set,” but in the long run, being able to transcend platforms and engage on their terms means to me that the experience can only become more real, which only creates stronger, more genuine connections.