- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NEW YORK

With “American Idol” turning everyday singers into pop stars and YouTube bringing acclaim to wannabe filmmakers, it seems only fitting that Super Bowl advertisers would be the latest to embrace the trend of giving amateurs a shot at the big time.

This year, a number of advertisers, including Doritos, Chevrolet and even the NFL itself, held contests for creating ads or ideas for ads to run in the biggest showcase for advertising of the entire year.

At a reported average price of $2.6 million for a 30-second spot during the game, airing Feb. 4 on CBS, taking a chance on an amateur isn’t for the faint of heart.

The NFL and Chevy are taking some of the uncertainty out of the picture by bringing in professional talent to make the ideas generated by contestants into finished ads that will air during the game.

Doritos, however, says it will air an ad from one of its five finalists that was made entirely by the contestant. Ann Mukherjee, vice president for marketing at PepsiCo Inc.’s Frito-Lay unit, which makes Doritos, says the submitted ads have not been edited “one iota.”

“Any big gain is going to take a lot of risk, and we went in with our eyes wide open,” Miss Mukherjee says. “It was really an effort to give our consumers control over their brand in an age where consumers really want a voice over what they love.”

By reaching out to consumers, advertisers are embracing the latest buzz topic in the media and entertainment business: “user-generated content,” a phenomenon that has many worried that people will spend more time watching YouTube or hanging out on MySpace than reading magazines, going to the movies or spending time with other traditional media.

In a reflection of how badly big companies want to be in those places, Internet search leader Google Inc. recently bought YouTube, and Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate News Corp. owns MySpace, the leading social networking site.

Doritos solicited submissions online for its contest and got more than 1,000 entries. Those were narrowed down to five finalists, whose ads then were put online for a popular vote. The winning ad will air during the Super Bowl but won’t be revealed until then.

The finalists — and their entourages, for those who have them — are all being flown to Miami to watch the game from a sports-bar facility and see whose spot won. Each finalist also received $10,000.

General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet, meanwhile, ran a contest for college students to submit plans and ideas for ads. Five teams were then flown to Chevrolet’s professional marketing division for an “advertising boot camp” to make their plans into real commercials, Chevy spokesman Travis Parman said.

He called the collaboration with the students a “reciprocal” undertaking. The students got to see a big-time advertising operation up close, and the carmaker gleaned valuable insights into what kinds of messages work with 18- to 25-year olds, the target audience for several Chevy models and a notoriously difficult age group to reach through mainstream media such as television.

To solicit submissions, Chevrolet went where company officials thought ambitious marketing students would be hanging out: ad industry blogs including www.JaffeJuice.com, www.AdRants.com and MIT’s Advertising Lab blog.

At the NFL, the league held a series of events last fall where fans could come in and pitch ideas for ads to a panel of experts, which included NFL marketing executive Lisa Baird and actor Don Cheadle, who has appeared previously in NFL Super Bowl spots.

The pitches — about 2,000 in all — ranged from “funny to very serious to poignant to wacky,” says NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. Gino Bona, a former sales director at a marketing firm, won with an idea about the loss fans feel at the end of the pro football season. Professional producers are shooting the ad this week in Los Angeles.

Frito-Lay’s Miss Mukherjee says the company is extremely pleased with its efforts to bring its chip-munching fans into the marketing process and has plenty more ideas in store. She says, Frito-Lay will offer a kind of reality-show contest of its own, introducing two new flavors over the next two months — one of which will be eliminated by popular vote.

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