On Tuesday night, filmmaker and three-time Crash the Super Bowl finalist Kevin T. Willson became the fourth person ever to win the million dollar ad meter bonus in Doritos’ annual commercial contest. But unlike the other three times directors have won that honor, Willson’s victory isn’t anything worth celebrating. In fact, the way he “won” his bonus money is so shameful I think his win might wind up being a black mark on the reputation of the entire field of “crowdsourced” advertising.
As I explained in my last post, this year USA Today ran TWO versions of their annual Super Bowl ad meter poll. The traditional poll got its scores from viewers in private focus groups and the results were released on Sunday night. This year, USA Today’s focus groups declared the Crash the Super Bowl entry “Man’s Best Friend” to be the best commercial of the game. (A great call, BTW) As is tradition, Doritos will award a bonus of one million dollars to the creator of Man’s Best Friend for pulling off such an amazing feat.
But USA Today’s second ad meter poll was touted as a chance for “the public” to rank the commercials of Super Bowl 46. The poll was run online and voting was open to anyone with a facebook page. Voters were able to score a video on a scale of one to five stars. Way back when the 2011/2012 installment of the CTSB contest was launched, Doritos said that they would be giving out bonus prizes to any CTSB ad that landed in the top three of either USA Today ad meter poll. (one million dollars for first, $600K for second, $400K for third) Voting in the online ad meter ended last night and when all was said and done, Kevin Willson’s Crash the Super Bowl ad, “Sling Baby,” managed to come out on top.
So this year, Fritolay gets to boast that Doritos commercials took the #1 spot in both of USA Today’s ad meter polls. But the new facebook ad meter poll is set up and run in such a way that virtually guarantees that a Crash the Super Bowl ad will land “in the money.” The other 55 ads in the poll have nothing to gain financially by doing well so only the Sling Baby team seriously FOUGHT for first place. So I think fritolay knew a Doritos ad would probably win the facebook poll all along. However, I don’t think they ever could have guessed that the final score would be so lopsided that the results would make the entire facebook ad meter look like an unfair, illegitimate joke. Check this out; here’s a shot of the Facebook ad meter scores as they were just a few hours after the Super Bowl ended:
On Sunday night, the CTSB commercial that won the traditional ad meter was also winning the online poll. Actually, the top 5 ads on this poll are just a jumbled version of the results of the traditional ad meter. So before the Sling Baby crew started voting, the facebook poll was actually a pretty fair indicator of how “the public” felt about the ads that aired during the big game. But here’s what the scores looked like by Monday afternoon.
Sing Baby had shot into first place but that was no surprise. However, the plummeting scores of the other videos in the top five were a little suspicious. As for the Kia commercial, it featured Motley Crue and it turns out the band kept telling their fans on Twitter and on facebook to vote for their ad. So that’s why that spot jumped into the Top 5. I guess the Sling Baby team didn’t appreciate that someone else was trying to win the ad meter poll. Here’s how the rankings looked at 1:15 on Tuesday afternoon:
The Kia ad had been slapped down hard. Just 20 minutes after I took that screen shot I checked the rankings again. The Kia ad’s score was down to 4.22 and it had fallen out of the top 5. So the only commercial that seemed to actually be trying to beat Sling Baby was mysteriously crushed in the voting over night.
Here now are the final scores of USA Today’s Facebook Ad Meter Poll:
When voting started, Sling Baby was in a three way tie for first place with Man’s Best Friend and Bud Light’s Weego. But after two days of voting, Sling Baby wound up absolutely slaughtering the competition. Though I use the word “competition” lightly. I did see a few casual requests for votes from some of the other competitors, but I think most companies realized that an online ad meter was sort of meaningless. For the Sling Baby team, winning a 56-way contest that almost no one else was really trying to win should have been a piece of cake. And Doritos even helped their cause. After Man’s Best Friend won the big ad meter contest on sunday, Doritos started encouraging their fans to head to the online poll and vote for Kevin Willson’s Sling Baby. I think it’s insanely, amazingly awesome that the folks at Fritolay want to give one of their CTSB winners a million dollars. Sure, it’s good publicity for them but still, it was a really gracious move. With Doritos’ support, Kevin Willson and his teammates could have scored a spot in the Top 3 without breaking a sweat. But unfortunately, winning $600,000 or $400,000 fair and square apparently wasn’t good enough for these folks. I kept track of the ad meter for the last three days and it seems that Sling Baby won because a small army of supporters sabotaged the scores of the other ads in the poll by maliciously rating them 1 star out of a possible 5.
If you look at Sling Baby’s official facebook page, you’ll only see a few subtle hints that the team wanted people to down-vote the other ads in the poll. Here’s one example I saw:
Just for the record, Willson’s “User Generated ad” was created by a team of more than 40 pro and semi-pro filmmakers and cost almost $3,000 to produce. But anyway, as you can see, whoever was running that facebook page was really pushing the idea that their team had to beat Budweiser, M&Ms, Kia, etc. And one fan even flat out said he was rating the other videos one-star. And yet, no one spoke up and said “Hey man, we don’t want to win that way. Please only give honest scores.”
But that was how thing’s went down on Sling Baby’s official page. Behind the scenes, the Sling Baby team felt free to get ruthless. Based on what I have seen, it seems that some team members decided they could only win if they played dirty. The creators of Sling Baby were incredibly organized and they even had someone managing their online campaigns. That person’s name is Nate Daniels and the “About Us” section of Vote4SlingBaby.com lists him as being in charge of “Social Media.” But apparently he also helped come up with the idea for the entry. Daniels did an interview with something called the Lansing City Pulse in which he talked about his role on the team:
Daniels, who moved to Los Angeles, teamed up with the director of the ad, Kevin Wilson, to create the commercial. “I helped create the idea for ‘Sling Baby,’ and am in charge of the online campaign and the website,” Daniels said.
And here he is doing a TV interview with a Lansing, MI news station about Sling Baby’s quest to win the facebook ad meter. So Daniels was a key member of the Sling Baby team. He was literally the guy in charge of spreading the word about the ad and I assume that he was the head of the “online campaign” to get votes for the commercial. At first Daniels simply asked people to vote for his team’s ad. But as the Sling Baby slipped in the polls, he started to hint that people should give bad scores to the competition:
But soon enough, Daniels dropped the innuendo and just started instructing people to rate the competing ads “1 star.” In an absolutely despicable move, he even told told people to give a bad score to the other Doritos commercial, Man’s Best Friend:
Daniels was by no means the only person using Facebook or Twitter to get Sling Baby fans to give bad scores to the other commercials in the ad meter. I found a bunch of other examples that I could post. But the people who made those requests weren’t in charge of Sling Baby’s social media campaigns so I’m not going to repost their comments. I’m only sharing what Nate Daniels did because it was his job to promote Sling Baby online.
Now, if you’re thinking that perhaps this one team member went rogue and did all this without the OK of his teammates….well, take a look at this:
Jeff Edwards was the Executive Producer of Sling Baby. Not only that, Edwards was Kevin Willson’s “plus one” for the trip to the Super Bowl. So Edwards was practically a co-finalist. He got a free trip to beautiful Indianapolis, he got to watch the Super Bowl from Fritolay’s private box and I’m going to guess that he stands to receive a huge slice of the million dollar ad meter prize. So this guy should have known better than to publicly call on people to give bad scores to the Bud Light, Kia and Chrysler ads. As Captain Hook would say, that’s just bad form. Even Motley Crue didn’t tell people to down-vote the other videos and they are literally a motley crew!
Over the years I have been in a lot of video contests where votes determine the winners. And I always make it a point to tell my family and friends NOT to down-vote the competition. That just seems like a skeezy and unfair way to win a contest. So it simply blows my mind that (as far as I saw) not one Sling Baby team member responded to Daniels or Edwards by saying, “Dude, chill out…we want to win fair and square.“ Though I didn’t see any evidence that Kevin Willson was asking people to sabotage the scores of the other videos in the contest, I think it’s incredibly unlikely that he didn’t know what his friends and teammates were up to. And yet, it looks like he did nothing to stop these sad, unsportsmanlike tactics.
And that might be because he knew those tactics would work. Just look at how the scores for the other top videos tumbled during the voting. Even Man’s Best Friend, the REAL best commercial of Super Bowl 46 went from first place to sixth place in just 48 hours. That just shows you how effective “down-voting” can be. Every high school graduate knows that you can get an A+ on every test but just one F per semester will wreck your final grade. My point is that negative scores have a much bigger impact than positive scores do. Let’s do some quick math: Imagine a commercial on the ad meter had 10 votes of 4 stars each. That would make their score 4.00. If a person casts an 11th vote of 5 stars, the video’s score goes up to 4.09. But if that person casts an 11th vote of 1 star, that video’s score plummets to 3.72. Winning by down-voting the competition was probably easy but it was also certainly wrong. But I guess the promise of a million god damn dollars can make people do some pretty crooked things. To me it looks like some members of the Sling Baby team decided that it was their mission to make sure Willson’s commercial came in first by any means necessary. And those folks straight up accomplished the hell out of that mission.
Right about now you might be wondering, “What’s the big deal? So these guys did what it took to win a million bucks…what do you care? It’s not your money.” Well the reason this is a big deal because the Sling Baby crew completely violated the spirit of this competition. I could win a hundred yard dash if my friends ran onto the track and tackled all the other runners, but that wouldn’t prove that I was the fastest guy in the race. And I sure as hell wouldn’t be proud if someone gave me a gold medal for my phony baloney victory. The point of the ad meter poll is to be ranked the best because your commercial IS the best….not because you got a whole bunch of people to give bad scores to the other ads. Not only is that unsportsmanlike, I think it borders on fraud. If the Sling Baby team launched a coordinated effort to get hundreds of people to LIE so that they could win this contest then they could be facing some serious legal repercussions. And yes, when those voters gave bad scores to all the other videos in the contest they were LYING….they were not scoring the other commercials honestly. I think this whole debacle could and should be investigated by the legal departments of Fritolay, USA Today, Kia, Budweiser, M&Ms, etc, etc, etc. But at the very least, the down-voting could result in Sling Baby being completely disqualified from the Crash the Super Bowl contest. Here’s what the official rules of the contest say about unsportsmanlike conduct:
Sponsor reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual deemed to be (a) tampering or attempting to tamper with the entry process or the operation of the Contest or any Sponsor or Contest-related Web Site; (b) violating the Official Rules; (c) violating the Web Site terms of service, conditions of use and/or applicable general rules or guidelines; or (d) acting in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. This Contest is offered only in the United States and is governed by the laws of the state of Texas. All claims relating in any manner to this Contest or to any Submission must be resolved in the federal or state courts located in Collin County, Texas.
Now that I think about it, if key members of the Sling Baby team were willing to resort to such unscrupulous measures to win the million dollar ad meter prize, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suspect that maybe they did some unscrupulous things to get enough votes to ensure their ad would air during the Super Bowl. Again, I think that’s something the big wigs at Fritolay can and should look into.
Finally, there is one more reason why all this matters: Crowdsourcing, video contests and consumer generated ads already don’t get a lot of respect from the pros in the advertising world. Every time a twenty dollar, homemade commercial like “Man’s Best Friend” beats Madison Avenue’s multi-million dollar commercials, the entire ad industry looks bad. But Sling Baby’s “win” on the facebook ad meter gives the pros a reason to dismiss the accomplishments of crowdsourcers everywhere. Sling Baby makes it look like we can only win when we’re playing with a stacked deck. And even worse, the ridiculous results of the facebook ad meter make all of us look like greedy, vindictive cheaters. Oh, but just for the record, down-voting the other ads technically wasn’t cheating since their were no rules and the ad meter wasn’t even an actual “contest.” But if people were giving bad scores to the other commercials on the ad meter just to help Sling Baby win, that would be unethical. And winning a million dollars unethically is nothing to be proud of.
Two final notes: First, all the facebook screenshots that appear in this post come from public facebook pages that anyone can access. However, I didn’t think it would be necessary or appropriate to actually link to those pages. Second, the website AdBowl.com also ran an online poll where the public could rate the commercials of Super Bowl 46. There were no prizes or bragging rights at stake in that poll so no one tried to sway the outcome of that contest. According to people of the Internet, the two best commercials of the game were Volkswagen’s Dog Strikes Back and Doritos’ Man’s Best Friend. As for Sling Baby, it came in 6th.