Do former finalists have an unfair advantage in Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest?

See you next fall?

Now that the Super Bowl is over and the final ad meter results are in, the 2011/2012 installment of Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest is officially over.  So you know what that means right?  It’s time to start thinking about next year’s contest!  No seriously…I’m not joking.  This year, Doritos gets to boast that they won both of USA Today’s ad meter polls.  Man’s Best Friend won the real ad meter and Sling Baby won the online vote.  So both the Sling Baby team and the Man’s Best Friend team will be receiving million dollar bonuses.  Yeah, ok sure….Sling Baby only won the online poll because the producers of that spot got a small army of people to give bad scores to all the other ads in the competition.  But that little fact kind of makes their “win” sound a lot less impressive.  So I’m going to guess Fritolay is just going to pretend that stuff didn’t happen and focus on the double victory.  And I think that double ad meter victory pretty much guarantees that the Crash will be back this fall.

So for VCN’s final CTSB post of the season, I thought I should revisit a topic that I hope will get a lot of discussion this summer at Fritolay HQ.  About three weeks ago I got to do something that thousands of disappointed video contest filmmakers across the country would probably love to do; I got to talk to some of the judges of Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest and ask them about how they select their top five finalists every year.  Though I had a million random questions I wanted to ask, our conference call was set up to address just one specific issue: Do former Crash the Super Bowl finalists have an unfair advantage in Doritos’ annual commercial contest?

I’ll go over conversation below but first, here’s why we discussed that particular topic:  It turns out that even though Doritos received 6,100 entries last fall, three of the five 2012 finalists had co-written, directed or produced commercials that had made the finals in a previous installment of the contest.  One winning ad was actually shot by two 2011 finalists that met at the SuperBowl last year and decided to join forces this time around.  Another 2012 finalist, Kevin T. Willson has now seen his work make the finals three years in a row.  But what was really amazing is that three winning entries, Dog Park, Bird of Prey and Sling Baby were created by a group of friends that attend the same church in Hollywood.  So even though the odds of making the finals were 1 in 1,220, three people who all knew each other and who all had co-created ads that had won this contest in the past managed to win again this year.

And 2012 was by no means a fluke.  A surprising number of people have made the finals more than once.  In fact, there has been at least one repeat finalist EVERY YEAR for the past four years.  Now to be fair, some of the past repeat finalists, without question, made the best entries EVER submitted to the contest.  (Specifically I’m thinking of “Free Doritos” and “Underdog.”)  But in the last two years, things have been getting kind of ridiculous.  For instance, there is no question that one 2012 finalist spot, Dog Park wouldn’t even exist if the director and the producer hadn’t met at the Super Bowl last year.  That team won again this year because they made a good entry….but they were able to make that entry BECAUSE they won the contest last year.  So now more than ever it feels  like the Crash the Super Bowl contest was become an insider’s game where the same group of people all get to take turns being finalists.

After the 2012 results were announced in January I blogged about the repeat winners and explained why I thought former finalists might have an edge over the rest of the people who enter the Crash.  Here’s a quick rundown of the reasons I listed:

1. PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE JUDGES: When you win the Crash the Super Bowl contest you get to spend several days at the Super Bowl hanging out and partying with the people who actually run the contest.  The contest judges get to know the finalists personally and it’s just natural that everyone would get friendly with each other.  In my article I theorized that some finalists and some judges may even stay in touch after the game. (Turns out I was correct)  I don’t think anyone has ever won this contest because they were pals with one of the judges.  But being friends with the people who pick the winners certainly can’t hurt.

2. INSIDE INFORMATION:  I suspect that finalists may benefit from talking to the reps from fritolay about the contest during the Super Bowl trip or later in the year if they keep in touch.  For instance, I have a feeling that former finalists probably find out (either via hints or direct info) that the CTSB contest will return before that news is made public.  If my hunch is correct, past winners basically get a head start over everyone else who enters the contest.

3. MONEY: When you make the Doritos finals you win $25,000.  Many finalists turn around and spend a huge chunk of that money on a new entry the following year.  For example, the 2012 finalist ad Sling Baby cost about $2,700 to produce and it was made by a director who had already made the finals twice before.  So it was easily one of the most expensive commercials submitted to the contest last fall.  It’s just not possible (or wise) for Doritos to pick commercials that look crappy so I think people should absolutely be free to spend thousands of dollars on their submissions if they want.  However, few people spend that kind of money because it’s just too much of a gamble.  But I think former finalists are willing to spend big bucks on their submissions (and I consider anything over $500 to be “big bucks”) because they’re gambling with “the house’s” money.

4.  SPECIAL ACCESS TO RESOURCES AND TALENT:  Lots of producers have access to money and talent but CTSB winners can get access to those things because of their previous win.  This contest can open doors for the people who win it.  What actor, crew person or investor wouldn’t want to team up with some who has already made the finals and had their Doritos commercial air on TV?  You can’t blame a contestant for taking advantage of opportunities that come to them because they have won the Crash before.  But it’s just one more thing that makes the process easier for them. On top of that, as we learned this year, finalists are actually allowed to team up with other former finalists and pool their resources and talent. Now that someone has actually pulled this off, I think we’re going to see more cases this fall where former finalists collaborate and form their own little Super Teams.

The article I posted on January 4th was entitled A Crash the Super Bowl Bummer: Three of the five 2012 finalists were made by past winners and you can read the whole thing by clicking that link.  The story quickly became VCN’s most popular post ever and it looks like it was read about 10,000 times (for this site that’s an insane figure.)  After it was up for a while, I thought it would only be fair to get Fritolay’s side of the story.  So one of their PR reps was good enough to set up a conference call so I could talk directly to two of the people in charge of the Crash the Super Bowl contest; Brian Kuechenmeister who is the head of Public relations for all of Frito-Lay and Jeff Klein who is a senior marketing director for Doritos.

If I were a better writer I would weave their answers into an in depth article about fairness in the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  But this is a blog, not Newsweek so I’m just going to hit you with some bullet points.  Here’s what I learned from talking to Kuechenmeister and Klein of FritoLay:

1.  The two reps were adamant about one point in particular.  They said that personal relationships with the judges will not help a finalist make the finals again.  They said the official judging criteria listed in the rules are the ONLY thing that matter.  Here’s how the rules say entries are score:

1. Originality and Creativity – 40%
2. Adherence to Creative Assignment – 30%
3. Overall Appeal – 30%

2.  Some of the people who judge the contest do get to know the finalists during the trip to the Super Bowl.  Some judges and some finalists do become friendly and they do stay in touch after the game.  One specific example that I was given was that former finalists sometimes update the Doritos team about new projects they are working on.  However, the reps also said that they also stay in touch with filmmakers they’ve met who have never won the contest.

3.  Former finalists do not get to jump the line.  By that I mean that former finalists do not get to send their new entries directly to the judges.  I was told that former finalists have to go through the same judging process as everyone else.

4.  This one surprised me:  The judges know the name of the person who submitted each entry before the final decisions are made.  I was told that as long as a former finalist enters under their own name, the judges will know which entry is theirs.  This means that the judges know that former finalists have a shot at winning again when they start making their final picks.  It also means that there is no surprise moment when the judges realize they just picked the same person’s video for the second or third year in a row.  I asked if being a former finalist helped or hurt a person’s chances of winning again.  The reps said that issue isn’t a factor during the judging.

5.  The rules state that employees or contractors of Fritolay are not eligible to enter the contest if they worked or were contracted by Fritolay in the last 12 months.  Even though Doritos purchases all of the winning commercials and airs them for years, finalists are exempt from this rule since the judges consider them to be “contest winners.”  So if you are a finalist this year you can be a finalist again next year.

6.  EVERYONE who has ever won the Crash the Super Bowl contest is eligible to win again.  Even the Herbert Brothers who won the million dollar grand prize can enter again if they want.  A former finalist is only ineligible if they were hired by Fritolay to promote the contest that year.

7.  I asked if the reps thought that repeat finalists had a financial advantage because they could reinvest their prize money into future entries.  They said some people choose to spend a more money on their submissions than other people and that’s up to individual contestants.

That’s a hell of a lot of info and I REALLY appreciate that the reps were so open about the whole process.  But I think this contest looks very different to people who are on the “inside.” So I’d like to address a few points from the perspective of any outsider:

First, on the topic of money:  If you can get your hands on the right equipment and if you’re willing to spend a few thousand dollars on your submission you’re going to be a serious contender in this contest.  And as I’ve said, I think that is totally fair.  The winning ads are going to air on millions of HD TVs on Super Bowl sunday!  You can’t run an ugly-looking commercial if you want to have a shot of scoring well on the ad meter.  During my conversation with the reps from Fritolay, I realized that Doritos NEEDS filmmakers that are willing to make expensive, professional-looking entries.  And every year some of the slickest submissions are made by former finalists.  I think this is one reason finalists are allowed to enter again the year after they win.  It’s like an insurance policy that guarantees that Doritos will always get at least a few tv-quality entries from past winners.  If finalists were required to take a year off after winning then Doritos would miss out on those “safe bet” entries.

Now, on the topic of personal relationships with the judges:  The thing that bothers me most here is the fact that the judges allow themselves to to become friends with the finalists.  And I don’t mean “friendly.”  Judges and finalists apparently become actual friends.  If you spend a few days with a group of people on a SuperBowl trip you’re just going to naturally bond with them.  But as I said, Kuechenmeister and Klein insisted that the judges aren’t picking people for the finals because they all partied together last year.  And I believe them 100%.  The Crash is a multi-million dollar ad campaign.  It would be ludicrous to pick Doritos’ Super Bowl commercial just because the guy who directed it is an awesome dude.

However….the judges in this contest are human beings.  Human beings have feelings and human beings have brains that work on a lot of levels.  Imagine that you’re a judge in this contest and you’ve got to decide between two commercials.  One was made by Potential finalist A and the other was made by Potential Finalist BPotential finalist A is a total stranger.  Potential Finalist B was a finalist in the contest last year.  You know that finalist’s name, you’ve met him, you’ve met his girlfriend.  You went to parties and concerts and bars with both of them.  You watched the Super Bowl from a private skybox together.  You got to see the excitement in this guy’s eyes as he waited to see if his commercial was going air during the game.  And maybe you got to see the defeat in his eyes when he learned his ad didn’t air or that he didn’t win one of the bonus prizes.  Then after the game you stayed in touch.  Maybe you even became friends on facebook.  If you did, you would get to hear about every up and down in that person’s life.  You would know if they were struggling or if they got a great job thanks to the contest.  If they didn’t win one of the big prizes you would know if it was their dream to make the finals again and win the million dollars.  Maybe you would even offer them encouragement.  Maybe part of you looked forward to seeing what Potential Finalist B was going to do this time around.

So…in this scenario, who would you rather be?  Potential finalist A or Potential finalist B?  Even if the judges TRY to remain totally objective, isn’t it unfair to the other 6,000 contestants that the judges even HAVE TO try to be objective?  Wouldn’t it be more fair if they just WERE objective?

I feel like kind of a jerk for even saying this but just now, on a whim I signed into facebook and checked to see if Mr. Kuechenmeister had a profile.  He did and it’s set to “public.”  I looked at his list of friends and it looks like he is Facebook friends with almost every Crash the Super Bowl finalist from the last 3 years.  (He only has about 500 friends so he’s not a public figure or anything that people can just friend out of the blue.)  This is relevant for some very important reasons.  Brian  Kuechenmeister is the head of Public relations for Frito-Lay and he’s one of the top decision-makers in the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  I would be willing to bet that no video can even make the finals without his approval.  Only a tiny, tiny percentage of people who enter this contest every year will know the names of any of the judges.  But if you do know who the judges are, and if are able to stay in contact with them between contests you’re basically setting yourself up to be a front runner next time around.

For example, the reps told me that former finalists don’t send their new entries directly to any of the judges.  But when a filmmaker enters the Crash the Super Bowl contest, what’s the first thing he or she does when his or her entry appears in the video gallery?  They post the link to their submission on facebook, of course.  I checked and that’s what three-time Crash the Super Bowl finalist Kevin Willson did on November 20th last year.  Willson is facebook friends with both Kuechenmeister and Klein.  Which means that one day before the contest deadline, Fritolay’s head of Public relations and the Senior marketing director for Doritos would have seen this in their facebook feed:
 

 
Did Willson do anything wrong here?  Hell, no.  The guy should be able to post his entries on his facebook page like everyone else.  I just think that it’s inappropriate that some of the judges in this contest have chosen to follow the efforts of a handful of contestants.  As I’ve said, Doritos received 6,100 Crash the Super Bowl entries this year.  It would take one person about 50 hours to watch every, single submission.  I’d be amazed if the big wigs at Fritolay watched more than a few hundred entries.  They probably only watch the very best submissions.  Willson didn’t need to worry about his entry making it past round after round of judging.  If just one of the contest judges saw that link on Facebook they would have probably though something like “Well, Kevin’s a contender again this year.”  Of course, that would only happen if the entry was any good.  But lots of good entries get snubbed every year.  If two filmmakers each make excellent submissions and one has to survive multiple rounds of judging before it gets to the head of PR for Fritolay and another can get his entry in front of that person before the submission period is even over, is that really a fair process?

And I think I can offer one more piece of evidence that supports my theory that the people who run this contest just get a little to close to some to the winners.  All last month, Doritos had been airing this commercial to encourage viewers to vote in the Crash the Super Bowl contest:
 

 
The ad features clips of several entries that have won the contest over the years.  But it also includes shots of a few non-winning submissions.  I thought the commercial was a fantastic idea when I first saw it.  It was awesome of Doritos to showcase the weird and wonderful work of so many past contestants.  Sure, it would be incredible to make the finals but just having even a few seconds of your goofy Doritos entry air on TV would be pretty sweet.  Plus, it’s fun for viewers to see clips of strange Doritos commercials they’ve never seen before.

But there was one shot in the commercial that seemed familiar to me.  I recognized one of the clips but I couldn’t remember why.  It took me a while but it finally hit me.  I was even able to find the complete submission online:
 

 
That entry is entitled “ChainSaw” and it was shot for the 2010/2011 installment of the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  It didn’t make the finals.  But it was directed by Kevin T. Willson and produced by Heather Kasprzak.  Willson has directed ads that made the CTSB finals for the last three years.  And Kasprzak has produced ads that have made the finals for the last two years. Kasprzak actually produced Willson’s 2010-11 entry. Between them, Willson and Kasprzak have created FOUR COMMERCIALS that have made the Crash the Super Bowl finals.

So it’s obvious why “Chainsaw” appears in that promo.  It was convenient.  In the last two years, the Crash the Super Bowl contest has probably received 10,000 entries.  But the folks at Doritos knew the producers of “Chainsaw” personally.  They didn’t have to dig up their contact info.  They could just call them and ask for permission to use that clip.  And a post-production intern didn’t have to spend weeks searching for a non-winning entry that had something to do with “love.”  I’m sure the judges just remembered that Willson & Kasprzak had shot a high-quality entry that would fit their concept. Heck…maybe this ad even inspired their concept.  Oh and as a bonus, Doritos didn’t even have to pay to use the clip.  I actually asked and Willson and Kasprzak weren’t compensated for the use of their footage.  I’m guessing that’s because if they got paid they would be considered “contractors” and they would not be eligible to enter the contest again next year.

So to someone on the “outside” it looks like Doritos has a few “go-to” filmmakers that they just seem to like to work with every year.  Do I think that anyone at Fritolay is actively conspiring to pick the same winners in this contest over and over?  Absolutely not.  All of the 2012 finalists made entries that were good enough to win…but so did a lot of other people.  To win this contest you need to have talent and make an awesome, hilarious, professional looking submission.  And Doritos gets lots of awesome, hilarious, professional looking submissions every year.  But for some reason it just seems like “the system” favors contestants that have won the Crash before.  Former finalists have lots of cash to play with, they are able to work with the best actors and tech people they can find, they may know the contest is happening again before the news is made public and they just happen to be friends with the people who will be picking the winners.  So it’s not really surprising that the same people can win two or even three years in a row.  But….is it fair?

3 thoughts on “Do former finalists have an unfair advantage in Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest?

  1. great article Beady, objectivity goes out the window once a personal relationship is formed, they could solve this problem instantly by hiding the name of the submitter of the video. If they can’t recognize they are clearly not being objective then they are delusional. They may think they are but like you said, we are all humans, it’s inevitable.

  2. I spent $1,100 on my entry last fall and I thought it was damn good. Learning all this stuff just makes me feel like a goddamn fool. If Doritos wants to hire the same people, why don’t they just do that? Why not reserve one slot for a filmmaker they literally hire? Why go through all the pomp and circumstance of holding a “contest?” Can you imagine the amount of monet that is wasted every year buy all the guys like me who enter every year? What a waste of time and money.

  3. Hey Beardy, you realize this story will just lead to a bunch of desperate filmmakers sending friend requests to everyone at Doritos, right? I must admit, doing so crossed my mind while I was reading this.

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