FritoLay gets a crazy amount of free publicity from the Crash the Super Bowl contest because the media loves the idea that “average joes” can beat Madison avenue at their own game. While it’s true that Doritos’ CTSB commercials have relatively microscopic budgets I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that these “consumer made” ads were created by amateurs. Once in a while there will be a low budget success story like last year’s $20 ad “Man’s Best Friend” but the truth is that most of the people who make the finals are professional or semi-professional filmmakers who spend THOUSANDS of dollars to get to the Top 5.
Does that sound unfair? Well, get over it because it’s not! The Super Bowl is the biggest TV event of the year and a million dollars in prize money is at stake. So Doritos can’t pick commercials that look cheap or cheesy. It takes money and talent to create a 30 second video that is technically good enough to air on television and I tip my hat to all the folks who have the cojones to do what it takes to win this contest.
So how much does it actually cost to make the Crash the Super Bowl finals? Well Doritos always puts out some background info about the winners and sometimes they include the budgets of every commercial that makes the top 5. You can check out the 2013 press page here but I’ll post some of the basic info that FritoLay provided. Yes, the numbers in green indicate how much that person spent on their submission.
Spot: Goat 4 Sale
Creator: Ben Callner Budget: $5,000
Occupation: Freelance Film Director
City/hometown: Decatur, GA
Spot: Road Chip
Creator: Tyler Dixon Budget: $2,500
Occupation: Freelance writer/director
City: Los Angeles, CA and Lehi, UT
Spot: Fashionista Daddy
Creator: Mark Freiburger Budget: $300
Occupation: Freelance Director
City: Los Angeles, CA
Spot: Express Checkout
Creator: Sasha Shemirani Budget: $1,000
City: Los Angeles, CA
Creator: Joe Taranto Budget: $5,000
City: Los Angeles, CA
So….this is easily the most expensive group of Crash the Super Bowl finalists we’ve ever seen. TWO entries cost more than $5,000(!) to produce and the others weren’t exactly shot on the cheap either. It’s also worth noting that all but 4 of the 5 winners live in Los Angeles and 5 out of 5 of them listed their occupation as some kind of photographer or filmmaker. Obviously anyone from anywhere in the US could make the Crash the Super Bowl finals but year after year we see that most of the winners are male filmmakers aged 20 to 40 from Southern California who spend more than $1,000 producing their submission. I’m not saying you need to move to LA if you want to win The Crash next year but if you come up with an amazing idea you’re probably going to have to spend a serious chunk of change on your video if you want to be a serious contender in this contest.
Last fall, about 5,000 entries were submitted to Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest. The number of submissions rises every year so your odds of winning aren’t super great. So when you’re trying to decide how much you should spend on your entry you might want to play it safe and follow that old gambling adage, “don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.” But to be totally frank, if you want to make the CTSB finals you’re probably going to have spend a lot more money than you’d expect. The idea that an amateur can “crash” the Super Bowl is sort of the whole point of this contest. But most of the commercials that make the finals are shot by professional or semi-professional filmmakers. And those pros often spend THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of dollars on their “fan made” ads. Fritolay’s official stance is that production quality is NOT considered by the judges when they pick their finalists. But to quote our adorable Vice President, that’s a bunch of malarkey. If a Crash the Super Bowl entry wins the public vote, Fritolay will spend about a million bucks to air it during the most-watched TV event of the year. Do you really think they’d pick ads for the finals that had crappy audio or that looked dark or grainy or blurry? Every single Crash the Super finalist that the Doritos judges have every picked was “TV-Quality.” And many were extremely professional looking. Based on their past choices, I suspect that the judges sometimes pick certain ads simply because they LOOK good enough to air during the Super Bowl.
For instance, check out this spot that made the CTSB finals in 2011. It was directed by a 3-time crash the Super Bowl finalist and produced by a 2-time crash the Super bowl finalist. It was shot in LA and was created by a crew of professional and semi-professional filmmakers and actors. Like many CTSB winners, it was shot with a RED camera. If you don’t know what a RED camera is, it’s a professional, film-like digital camera that is used to shoot feature films like District 9, The Amazing Spiderman and Prometheus. Its an amazing camera but it’s not cheap and it takes a skilled professional to operate it.
I was really surprised when “Birthday Wish” made the finals in 2011 since the ad wasn’t about the product being sold. The Doritos only got 1 mention and 2 seconds of decent screen time. But it looked pretty and it was kind of funny so Fritolay wouldn’t have been totally embarrassed if the ad aired during the big game. So how much did it actually cost to produce this ad? Here’s a quote I pulled from an interview with the producer:
“I’m managing about 50 people,” she said about this year’s contest entry. “We had a $3,000 budget, but everyone on it worked for free.”
Yes….that is an actual quote from the producer. “Birthday Wish” had a budget of $3,000 and 50 people(!) worked on it. And it wasn’t even a very fancy ad! It didn’t have any crazy stunts or effects and the whole thing took place in just a living room and a dining room. But expenses can ad up fast when you’re producing a video that needs to look really good on an HD TV.
Let’s take a look at another very professional looking CTBS ad. This one made the finals last year. It only cost $750 to produce and was shot with a Canon 7D.
“Bird of Prey” did cost under $1,000 but I’m guessing that it still cost more than 99% of the other commercials that were submitted last year. It was also made by a team of pros and semi-pros that had produced some past Crash the Super Bowl winners. (I think some of the crew may have worked on “Birthday Wish.”) According to the Bird of Prey website, it took 18 crew people to produce this spot and they even had a professional stunt coordinator. So most people who enter the Crash could never pull off a video like this without spending a boatload if money. If you’d like a better understanding of how complex some of these shoots can be, check out this behind the scenes video.
When Doritos announces their Top 5 picks they usually put out a press release that mentions how much each submission cost to produce. For the last few years, pretty much every Crash the Super Bowl finalist ad has cost at least $500 and many cost well over $1,000. Remember the Doritos ad “Sling Baby” from last year’s Super Bowl? That “fan-made” ad was directed by a 3-time Crash the Super Bowl winner (he also did Birthday Wish the year before) and cost $2,700 to produce. I could list the budgets of a bunch of other recent CSTB winners but the numbers would probably just depress the hell out of you. Now don’t get me wrong….I’m not hating on the filmmakers out there that have spent or will spend thousands of dollars on their CTSB entries. I absolutely respect filmmakers who are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. Seriously, it takes some major cojones to spend $3,000 on a spec ad that might net you zero dollars. If you’ve got the money and the guts to go all in with your Crash the Super Bowl entry, I tip my hat to you.
So right about now you’re probably thinking about about selling all your stuff (and maybe your body) on craigslist so you can shoot a Doritos ad that actually has a chance of making the top 5. Well not so fast! Spending a small fortune and producing a super slick entry isn’t always a good idea. In fact, I think Doritos has passed on some entries because they don’t look homemade enough. Check out these amazing Crash the Super Bowl submissions that DIDN’T make the finals:
Those were pretty damn good and they looked as professional as any ad you’d see on TV. But they didn’t make the top 5. I think they were just TOO SLICK to win an “amateur” commercial contest. So while money IS a factor here, it is far from the only thing that matters. In fact, if you have an amazing idea, it doesn’t matter at all! Remember this ad from last year’s Superbowl?
That was Crash the Super Bowl winner “Man’s Best Friend.” It aired during the game and was ranked the number one best commercial of the Super Bowl on the USA Today ad meter. And that means the creator of that ad won a one million dollar bonus from Fritolay. So how much did Man’s Best Friend cost to produce?
So if you don’t have a few extra thousand dollars to spend on your Doritos commercial, don’t worry. If you can come up with a perfect, hilarious, once-in-a-life time commercial idea none of the judges are going to care how pretty your submission is.