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It may have been the finest bit of comedy in any Super Bowl commercial last Sunday, and it came in the form of a legal disclaimer.

In the spot, an ornery grandma uses a baby's Jolly Jumper as a slingshot, snatching a bag of Doritos from a spoiled child on top of a backyard play set. Chip maker Frito-Lay added a helpful bit of fine print as the infant was hurtled through the air: "Do Not Attempt."

Luckily for amateur filmmaker Kevin Willson, he did attempt. He took part in the sixth Crash the Super Bowl contest, in which Frito Lay invited U.S. customers to submit their own ads for a chance to make it to television during the big game. And now Mr. Willson is $1-million (U.S.) richer. This year, Doritos paid out more prize money than ever, as both of the user-generated ads it placed in the broadcast dominated ratings of viewers' best-loved commercials.

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It's a sign of the brand's growing commitment to a strategy that is gaining momentum in the advertising industry: Get consumers to make the ads. And it's not just paying off for the would-be creative directors lucky enough to win contests such as the one from Doritos. It's also helping marketers to make an impact: The baby ad was No. 1 on the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter this year (the measure Frito-Lay uses to determine whether it pays the $1-million prize). Of the top 10 in that list, three were not made on Madison Avenue.

Both Doritos winners made the top 10. The third was an ad for Dannon Oikos Greek yoghurt, produced in partnership with L.A. agency Poptent, which crowd-sources ideas from its community of creators, including aspiring filmmakers. The final ad, starring John Stamos, came out of 34 different submitted concepts, filmed with a Stamos stand-in.

"Years ago, big brands had policies that we couldn't take any unsolicited ideas from the public," says David Jones, vice-president of social strategy at Proximity, a Toronto agency. Large companies feared the legal ramifications of marketing campaigns that were hatched outside of the classical agency relationship, in case disputes over the genesis of an idea ever came up. "That's been turned on its ear, and [user-generated content] has been embraced."

There is reason to be fearful that consumer-generated ad campaigns could take on a life of their own. In 2006, Chevrolet built a website with a TV spot featuring the Tahoe sport utility vehicle, and allowed visitors to put their own text in the ads. The write-your-own campaign backfired, as some visitors inserted text criticizing the vehicles as gas guzzlers that contribute to global warming. But in the social media world, companies are recognizing more and more that while they need to keep some control over such efforts, connecting with their consumers is no longer optional. That realization is spurred on by campaigns like the Doritos Super Bowl contest that have seen mass success.

The trend has come to Canada as well: Last spring, Proximity worked with the Doritos marketing team here on a campaign called " The End," which invited Canadian customers to write the end of an ad, choosing one of two flavours to be taken off the shelves. The winner received a $25,000 prize and 1 per cent of all future sales of the surviving chip flavour in Canada.

"Consumers have left [behind]the notion of being an 'armchair' brand worshipper," says Haneen Khalil, marketing manager for Doritos in Canada.

Frito Lay Canada continued to communicate with the winner all last year, asking her for feedback on products and campaigns before they went to market. Doritos is currently planning a new campaign in Canada, coming soon, building on the concept of user-generated content, Ms. Khalil says.

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FGL Sports Ltd., which owns the SportChek, Atmosphere and other sports apparel and equipment stores in Canada (and was recently acquired by Canadian Tire) is also turning to user content. Beginning this fall, the retailer's flyers will begin to feature local outdoor photos taken by customers. These types of images will appear more often in the stores' digital advertising, on Facebook, and on in-store signs as well, according to FGL chief marketing officer Duncan Fulton.

"If we're going to do a grand opening in Gander, Nfld. … profiling user-generated content from that community is much more powerful than having models on the coverCanada's "Keep Exploring" campaign eschewed the usual grandiose look of TV tourism ads in favour of amateur video from YouTube (with permission) to show Canada from an average traveller's viewpoint.

"It's a way for a brand to be more transparent, be a little bit more genuine. It's that peer-to-peer trust factor," says Michelle Kitchen, vice-president and business director at DDB Canada, which developed the campaigns. "It really elevates the credibility, if new visitors are hearing it from other people who have done it themselves."

However, Ms. Kitchen draws a distinction between this kind of campaign and the high-profile Super Bowl spots. The tourism campaign was unsolicited, in that travellers were producing videos and writing reviews of their own accord, while Doritos created campaigns that offered financial incentives for successful entries.

But one thing such competitions do incredibly well, she acknowledges, is build buzz on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as people talk about the campaign, in some cases talk up their own submissions, and vote for their favourites. That social conversation is key for marketers, especially around a big event like the Super Bowl, where the online attention paid to the campaign is a growing part of its value.

Doritos is in many ways responsible for the rising trend of user-generated ads during the big game. In 2009, its finalist was the first consumer-created ad to land the No. 1 spot on the USA Today meter – proving that the process of soliciting amateur ads could be more than just a gimmick.

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But other brands are getting into the game too. Just outside of the top 10 this year was Chevrolet, with a consumer-made spot featuring a young graduate's out-of-control celebration over what he thinks is his new car. Chevrolet's campaign partnered with London-based agency Mofilm, which invites submissions from its community of aspiring filmmakers, advertising freelancers, and amateurs – a pool of more than 30,000 people worldwide, in Mofilm's case.

"Generally speaking, publicly generated content has a fresher feel," says Jeffrey Merrihue, chief executive officer and co-founder of Mofilm. That's partly because there is less scrutiny over an idea, he says – in the advertising world, most agencies would be reluctant to pitch a client on a campaign that revolves around the murder of fluffy cats.

But whether it's a competition offering $1-million for a Super Bowl spot or something as small as a request for customers to tell their stories, more consumer input is becoming part of the marketing fabric now, Mr. Jones of Proximity says.

"It's what brands have been trying to do forever – become part of your life, create a connection," he says. "In this shop, in every shop, in every city, the stuff I see winning awards – it's all that now; it's all getting people involved. Brands are becoming much more comfortable getting close to the consumer."


The growth of the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl campaign shows the increasing interest in user-generated content in advertising, and the attention it helps to grab for a brand.

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More than 1,000 entries

No prize money associated with the Ad Meter


A music video competition, no ads were submitted


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2,000-plus entries

For the first time, a consumer-created ad ranked No. 1 on USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter.

As a reward, Doritos paid $1-million (U.S.) to two unemployed brothers from Indiana.

The commercial cost them less than $2,000 to make.


4,063 entries

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Prize money paid: $600,000


5,600-plus entries

The company extended the campaign to include user-generated spots for Pepsi Max. (Frito-Lay is owned by PepsiCo Inc.)

A record six ads made it to air – four by public vote, two chosen by company executives.

Four of those ads made the top 10 in the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter

For the second time, a user-generated spot got the No. 1 spot in that ranking – the Doritos "Pug Attack" spot landed its creator $1-million.

Total prize money paid: $1.4-million


6,100-plus entries

For the first year, the brand revealed the number of votes that came in for the six finalists – nearly 500,000.

Record prize money paid out: $2-million, plus $25,000 and a trip to the game for each finalist. The two winners get to work with comedy music group The Lonely Island.

Susan Krashinsky

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