Branding. Breakthrough. Benefit. Experts say these are just a few of the marketing building blocks that make for a successful Super Bowl commercial.
For PostTV, I explored the brands that got the Super Bowl formula right. The truth is, I’m much more qualified to talk about unsuccessful commercials. I’ve been helping my husband make them for a very long time.
Here’s an ad you won’t see during Super Bowl XLVIII:
It is our most recent unsuccessful attempt to Crash the Super Bowl, the annual contest sponsored by Frito-Lay that allows directors to live out their wildest, cheesiest dreams.
But Tim Tobey (that corny real estate agent who is also my husband) has been on a quest for Super Bowl commercial glory for almost a decade.
I met Tim at the beginning of 2007, not long after he entered Frito-Lay’s inaugural consumer-created commercial contest. America voted and the top finishers won a cash prize and 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl. He didn’t win.
We watched the game together that year, from Tim’s post-college-dude apartment in North Carolina. During commercial breaks, I listened to him lament over the first-ever Doritos contest winner and runner up that had somehow managed to eke out a victory over his homemade spot.
So began our joint pursuit for the title.
We weren’t YouTube savvy yet, so those early masterpieces are forever archived in our memories instead. If I remember correctly, one of them (titled, “Mr. Ranch”) had a scene that went something like this:
Tim sitting on couch with bag of chips.
Tim: “Are you going out on the town tonight? No? You must be too cool.”
Cut to bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
Doorbell rings. Tim opens door to reveal bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos.
Tim: “Oh, you must be Mr. Ranch’s hot date…”
You get the idea.
Needless to say, it didn’t make the top five. But Tim was hooked. He became determined to win and (by proxy) I did, too. The rest is shamefully well-documented history.
Our lives and careers have evolved over the years, and so have our commercials. At times, the evolution was even consequential — like when I decided to quit my government consulting job and go to graduate school to pursue video journalism. Tim was always suspiciously supportive of my quarter-life crisis.
Our production value has improved over the years, which is good because the competition has gotten fierce (we’re talking helicopters, crystal balls, celebrities, goats). Today’s Doritos commercial contest is no place for amateurs with the munchies and a camera.
But it remains our yearly excuse to be weirdly creative, have a blast with our friends and eat Doritos for dinner. And we take an unnecessary pride in the fact that we’ve never started producing an ad more than 48 hours before it’s due.
We haven’t won (yet). But so far, we’ve made complete fools of ourselves and a lot of memories trying. We’ve gone through a Target checkout line with 18 bags of Doritos and some AAA batteries. We’ve trespassed. We’ve built a 7-foot-tall cash cube in our living room. We’ve meticulously strung hundreds of tortilla chips onto fishing line. We’ve asked friends to forsake entire weekends. We’ve borrowed their cameras, front yards, houses and babies. And in one case — on a cold November day — their dignity.
Tim’s (and OK, my) dream to produce a Super Bowl-worthy commercial, however ridiculous and far-fetched, has become a collective undertaking. (Complete with an ever-growing blooper reel.)
So, will my husband and I keep sacrificing our Sundays and our dignity to pull off this annual, last-minute production?
We will. ‘Til death do us part. Or ’til we Crash the Super Bowl. Whichever comes first.
Kate Musselwhite Tobey is video producer/editor for PostTV at The Washington Post.