Beneath marketing buzz phrases like “participatory marketing" is one of the key branding trends of the last several years—the idea that consumers (people) aren’t just passive recipients of messaging but active producers and distributors of brand content of all kinds.
The Super Bowl is, of course, not just the biggest day of the year for football. It’s also one of the biggest days for participatory marketing. And Doritos’ "Crash The Super Bowl" contest has been one of the enduring and successful consumer-generated content campaigns in the game.
It started in September 2006 when Frito-Lay decided that its popular Doritos brand would not air the standard agency-made ads during the next Super Bowl. Instead the brand launched “Crash the Super Bowl,” a contest that invited civilians to create and upload their own Doritos ads. The winners—determined by online voting—would air during the Super Bowl and winning entrants stood to win big money ($25,000 each for finalists, and five- and six-figure bonuses if an ad landed in the Top 3 on the USA Today Ad Meter). At the time, consumer-generated advertising was all the rage among marketers, but was most often an ill-considered me-too move. Doritos’ "Crash the Super Bowl" has been a more concerted initiative and part of a broader consumer-inclusive approach on the part of the brand.
Frito-Lay has many ways to track the success of user generated content ads. To judge the effectiveness of the contest, Doritos measures pass-along value, online contest currency, media value, and brand equity throughout the contest. According to Frito-Lay Chief Marketing Officer, Ann Mukherjee, since the launch of "Crash the Super Bowl" all of those measures have consistently gone up, as have sales. Submissions also doubled this year reaching an all-time high of 6,100. In her analysis, these campaigns have been the most successful marketing initiatives in the brand’s history. Besides, as Mukherjee points out, “I have 25,000 ads in the can…and they’re free!” In fact, the Doritos advertising campaign for 2011 consisted entirely of the best ads from past "Crash the Super Bowl" contests.
This year, Mukherjee will sit in a suite during the game with all five contest finalists as they find out in real time if they are among the two lucky winners. Here, she sits with us and discusses five principles that have made the "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign so effective.
1. Trust the Consumer
Every year Mukherjee hears concerns: Are you sure you can trust random consumers to produce great advertising content? Aren’t you nervous you won’t get the message you’re aiming for? “For me, rule number one is trust the consumer," she says. "This principle has changed me as a marketer. When you give the freedom to the audience, when they love something, they will take care of it better than someone you actually pay. This is their brand. They’re not going to tarnish it. There hasn’t been a single year I’ve been disappointed.”
The idea of trusting the consumer is felt throughout the contest, starting with the fact that Doritos offers very little in the way of guidelines to the contest entrants. This year’s creative assignment, which has been the same throughout the years of the contest, was: “Make it action-packed. Make it funny. Make it something you’ve never seen before. It’s up to you. Just make it awesome.” The ad must feature Doritos, and contestants must avoid explicit content that wouldn’t be permitted on primetime national network television. Outside of that, Doritos doesn’t touch the ads in any way. “That’s our contract with our consumers,” Mukherjee says. “This generation has a different way of looking at the world. They’re not willing to accept rules or the status quo. We are responding to that.”
2. Grow with your Market
While some brands have arrived recently to the notion of participatory marketing, some have stumbled and others departed entirely, but Mukherjee sees leveraging the creativity of thousands of fans as a permanent strategy. The strategy is a response to the unique sensibility of the key Doritos demographic: the millennials. Mukherjee explains: “This generation isn’t just looking for brands they can buy, they’re looking for brands they can buy into, brands that stands for their ideals. Millennials are looking to find their voice. They want to be heard.” She’ll continue with a participatory strategy for the foreseeable future. But since Doritos is a life-stage brand, Mukherjee acknowledges that when the next generation enters the Doritos market, user generated content may no longer strike a chord. If that’s the case, Doritos will readily adapt and design a new consumer-based strategy. “You have to evolve. You have to grow with your market.”
3. This Is All Part of a Broader Strategy, Not the Strategy Itself.
While other companies may create a consumer-generated ad here or there, Doritos incorporates the consumer into their marketing year-round. “Anything user-generated should be part of a broader strategy, not just a tactic,” Mukherjee says. “The Doritos brand has always been about the consumer. We’re always looking for ways to showcase the consumer. We don’t just ask the consumers to participate at Super Bowl time, we seek their involvement year-round.” In 2007, Doritos launched the Doritos X-13D Flavor Experiment, in which they asked users to help name a new Doritos flavor. More recently in 2010 Doritos Unlock Xbox competition invited users to design an XBox game around Doritos. The winning game, "Doritos Crash Course," has been downloaded 1.4 million times. As Mukherjee points out, “If it’s a one-off program, the consumers are smart, they will figure that out. Participatory marketing has to be about everything you do every day.”
4. Don’t Forget About Ad Agencies
Most Super Bowl ads will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to film, brief as they are. But the filmmakers who make commercials for Doritos spend far, far less. This year’s cheapest ad was made for $20; the most expensive for $3,000. Many ads are made by aspiring filmmakers. So if a big company like Doritos can source some of their biggest advertising content from people who make commercials on such low budgets without professional backgrounds, where does that leave the traditional ad agencies and advertising industry professionals? Mukherjee say the agencies are still important, but now there role has shifted from creating the content to facilitating the content. For example, she uses Doritos agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners to design the campaign to appeal to users to generate the content and enter the contest. But Mukherjee cautions that the agencies need to “Get outside of the control silos they have put up. They no longer have a monopoly on great advertising ideas.”
5. Consumers Become Ambassadors
“The Super Bowl is the climax of this story; the story starts in September when we put the call out for submissions,” Mukherjee says. From that point on Doritos tracks three communities: the makers (who enter the contest), the lovers (who create buzz and follow the contest), and the watchers (who watch the ads and vote in the contest). Once the finalists are announced, they become ambassadors for Doritos. All year round they appear at Doritos events. Several winners and finalists have helped design promotional materials after the Super Bowl is over. Some winners and finalists have coached future applicants. But importantly, Doritos sits down with all the finalists and advises them on how to market their ads. They fire up their base, just as in a political campaign.
On the one level, the campaign engages the power users, the several thousand people who enter the competition—and of course, the five who become finalists. But the regular consumers also become more engaged. This year for the first time, Doritos ran television commercials encouraging people to vote in the contest. From September when Doritos announces the call for submissions, through the February Super Bowl, consumers are engaged at every step of the way—encouraging them to enter, to vote, to blog, to tweet, and to otherwise spread the word through all manner of social media activities.