How did Doritos do on the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter?

This is more scientific than this year’s USA Today Ad Meter

The USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter used to be a big part of the Crash the Super Bowl contest.  Actually, it was a big part of the Super Bowl, period.  But have you noticed that no one really talks about the Ad Meter any more?  That’s because a few years ago, USA Today changed the way they run the Ad Meter and now it’s pretty much a pointless waste of time.  The paper used to set up focus groups in different cities and they had participants watch the Super Bowl ads in real time.  If a viewer liked what they saw, they turned a dial up.  If they didn’t like what they saw, they turned a dial down.  It’s sounds simple but no one else was generating scientific-ish data about the popularity of Super Bowl commercials so the Ad Meter was always big news the day after the game.  But now USA Today scrapped the testing and turned the whole thing into a lame online poll.  Anyone over the age of 18 can register and vote and there’s not really any kind of regulations or oversight.  So if Budweiser wants to do well in the Ad Meter they can just send out a company-wide e-mail and ask their thousands of employees to rate their commercials five stars or whatever.

For years Doritos used to promised big cash prizes to any CTSB finalist that could score the #1, #2 or #3 spot on the Ad Meter.  But now that the Ad Meter is just another dumb online voting thing, FritoLay has decided to just give a million bucks to the CTSB finalist that wins THEIR dumb online voting thing.  But just for old time’s sake I thought I’d check and see how this year’s Crash the Super Bowl finalists did on the Ad Meter.  It turns out they did good but not great.  Middle Seat was the 5th highest rated ad of the night and When Pigs Fly was the 11th highest rated ad.  So what does that mean exactly?  It means nothing because like I said, the Ad Meter isn’t “scientific” any more.  It’s just another pointless online poll so who cares?  If you’re answer to that question is “me, I care!” then head here to see the full results of the 2015 Super Bowl Ad Meter.:

Hark! Let glory (and cash) be upon the winners of USA Today’s Holiday Lights Contest!

Merry Christmas Eve everybody! I’ve got some time to kill before I go over to my grandma’s house for pierogies and presents so I thought I’d do a quick post and share the results of Christmas-themed video contest.  But it turns out that most Christmas-themed video contests are kinda lame so I’m just going to post a video that features the winners of USA Today’s annual Holiday Lights Contest.  Contestants had to send in a photo of their Christmas Holiday lights and the house with the craziest display will get $5,000.  Here’s some info about the family that won:

Over the past 20 years, what began as a way for Buck Bottoms to make his children smile during the holidays has turned into a lifestyle for Hunter, 27, his wife, Emily, brother Jonathan, 25, and sister Ashley, 24. And Hunter Bottoms has in many ways taken over as the ringleader of the family’s holiday display.

He says each year they reunite to decorate their parents’ Midlothian, Va., home.

“We start putting the display together in September and try to have it up by Thanksgiving,” Bottoms says. “We have 178,000 lights so it’s a process and we have to manage things all year.”

The Bottoms house is located in a suburb of Richmond where holiday light tours are a staple of the season. For the past 10 years, the Bottoms home has been a part of the Richmond Tacky Lights tour with limos and buses of people showing up on the weekends.

Ok, it’s now officially pierogi time so I am outta here.  Have a great holiday everybody!

Why didn’t Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl ads do better on this year’s USA Today Ad meter?

Late last night, USA Today released the full results of the 2013 Super Bowl ad meter poll and there was great news for Doritos fans; The Crash the Super Bowl winners Fasionista Daddy and Goat 4 Sale were ranked the #1 and #2 :30 second commercials of the game!  Unfortunately, the ad meter poll included every commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, even the 2 minute long short film/ad things.  So Fashionista Daddy actually came in 4th and Goat 4 Sale came in 7th.  Here is the official Top 10 from USA Today:

Because neither Doritos commercial made the Top 3, the winning filmmakers won’t receive any bonus money from FritoLay.  And that is a goddamn shame.  The two guys who won the Crash the Super Bowl contest this year were completely and totally robbed.  If USA Today hadn’t changed their methods and wrecked their ad meter this year I am positive that at least one Doritos finalist would have won a six or seven figure bonus.

For 24 Super Bowls in a row, USA Today conducted their ad meter poll in exact same way.  Here’s how USA Today described the process:

It was pretty simple: We’d bring in 300 or so pre-screened viewers to watch the game at several locations. The panelists were enticed with a small payment, a giant theater-sized screen, a knob-turning device and thick sandwiches to record their impressions of the commercials from start to finish.  

“They were into both the game and the ads,” recalls editor Fred Meier, who helped honcho the project from the start. “We could tell from the crowd reaction how high an ad was going to score. And we never wanted to hear them guffawing late in the third or in the fourth quarter, which would mean a potential late new leader in the ad contest.”

So the old Ad Meter poll was a highly organized live event.  The USA Today team had people turn little dials to indicate how much they liked or disliked a commercial as it aired.  People watched the ads in real time and they only got to see them once.  They didn’t give each commercial an individual score.  Instead, a computer averaged out their dial activty.  So commercials that were exciting or funny from beginning to end always did very well.  FritoLay noticed that Crash the Super Bowl ads were actually scoring very high on the ad meter so in the fall of 2008 they offered some bonus prizes to any filmmaker who could crack the top 3.  1st place on the ad meter would get you a million dollar bonus, 2nd was good for $600K and 3rd got you $400K. Filmmakers studied the mechanics of the USA Today ad meter and they started crafting ads that would theoretically score very well in a dial-measured style focus group test.  And that plan actually paid off for a few lucky filmmakers.  At least one Crash the Super Bowl ad managed to make the Top 3 every year since 2009.  And Doritos commercials actually won the ad meter poll in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

But for the first time in 5 years, Doritos didn’t even crack the Top 3.  Actually, 2013 was a bad year for ALL the funny 30 second Super Bowl ads.  The top 10 was dominated by 60 and even 120 second(!) long sentimental or lighthearted  “cute” commercials about farmers and families that were narrated by Oprah and the ghost of Paul Harvey.

So what the heck happened?  Well it turns out that this year USA Today decided to throw their 25 year old ad meter experiment into the garbage and then they replaced the whole thing with a B.S. online poll.  Again, here’s a quote from the folks at USA Today:

In an attempt to make the Ad Meter more social, we partnered with Facebook last year, which worked out fine except it was a bit confusing to mix the panel reactions with the later Facebook results.

So this year (the 25th Annual Ad Meter!), we’ve gone totally digital, dropping the live panels and Facebook, and instead offering everyone in America the chance to sign up online and vote from their computers.

So basically the paper kept the name of the project and got rid of everything that cost them any money….and anything that gave the poll any credibility. Here are three big changes that wound up skewing the ad meter results in unexpected ways:

1.  Anybody could vote.  Instead of a few hundred participants watching each ad in a closed and controlled screening room, any random person with a web connection could vote and affect the outcome of the poll.  In total, about 7,000 people across the US voted for some or all of the ads in the poll.

2.  Viewers did not have to rate every commercial.  This was an enormous and very important change.  Voting in the online poll was actually launched BEFORE the game even started.  But the Doritos ads didn’t appear until after they aired because Doritos wanted to keep the winners a secret.  So if you voted early, you didn’t even see the Crash the Super Bowl ads.

3.  The ad meter voters were not pre-screened.  When a company wins the ad meter they get millions of dollars worth of free publicity since their commercial is shown over and over and over online and on the news.  So is it really so far-fetched to suspect that maybe some companies just hired people (or asked their employees) to give their Super Bowl commercial a high score?  As I said, only about 7,000 people voted in the online poll this year.  What if a giant billion-dollar, multinational corporation like Proctor and Gamble had sent a mass e-mail to all of their 129,000 employees asking them to sign up and vote for Tide’s Super Bowl commercial?  Even if only 500 people out of that 129,000 voted they would still have a massive impact on that commercial’s score.

4.  No more dials.  People at home don’t have dials hooked up to their computers.  So instead of rating an ad second-by-second, viewers gave each commercial an over all score on a scale of 1 to 10.  The old poll measured a participant’s instant and immediate reaction to an ad.  But the new poll gave people time to think about how much they liked each commercial.  I suspect this had an odd psychological affect on some people.  If I saw a commercial were a guy got hit in the balls I might chuckle…but then I’d feel kind of like a moron for laughing at something so low-brow.  So I suspect a lot of ad meter participants took a moment to decide how they should react to each ad rather than give an honest assessment of their actual reaction.  If Tide’s 60-second long “Miracle Stain” spot had run last year, I don’t think it would have come in 2nd on the ad meter.  That’s because it started off slowly and I think a lot of people would have been bored after 40 seconds.  But this year people watched the ad from start to finish before they made any judgments.  I think viewers decided it was cute and funny and that it was the “right kind” of ad.  I think this is the reason all these sentimental ads did so well last night.  It just felt good to give them high scores.  The commercials maybe weren’t entertaining but viewers subconsciously wanted to demonstrate that they had good taste.  So a wacky chip ad staring  a guy in a dress gets a 7 but an inspiring (but sort of confusing) Oprah-narrated ad about families deserved to get a 10 because that was a serious and maybe even an important commercial.

So the USA Today ad meter is dead and it’s never coming back.  Sure, the folks at USA Today are going to continue to parade around its corpse like it’s still real and relevant but it’s not.  In fact, USA Today apparently wants to bastardize their brand even further by running ad meter polls during other events like the Oscars. (The fact that companies don’t make special commercials for the Oscars or the All-Star game apparently doesn’t mater.)  So in the end, this just comes down to an issue of money and free publicity.  USA Today realized that the Ad Meter name was worth something so they’ve decided to make a couple bucks by running shitty online polls under the once respected Ad Meter banner.

I’m not really sure what all this means for the Crash the Super Bowl contest but I’ll be frank, I’m a little worried.  It will now be much, much harder for Dortios commercials to score a #1, #2 or #3 spot in the poll.  That means FritoLay will be getting a lot less exposure and free press out of The Crash.  I suspect that FritoLay will run the contest again next year but I also suspect they might change the terms a bit.  I really think it’s time for Doritos to start paying bonus prizes to the finalists if their ad makes it to air regardless of how they do on the ad meter.  They could still do the bonus ad meter prizes but if they guaranteed an extra $25,000 just for airing that’d be really nice.  I know that might sound like a lot of money but it’s chump change when you consider the fact that FritoLay has to pay at least  $3,000,000 to air one 30 second Super Bowl commercial.

Sling Baby “Wins” Facebook ad meter poll and a million bucks thanks to unsportsmanlike conduct

I call Shenanigans! Sling Baby's "head of social media" calls on fans to attack their competition.

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:

Online ad meter standings: Sunday Night

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:

Screenshot of the "Vote For Sling Baby" facebook page

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 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 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.

Dueling Caskets (full of Doritos!)

Image from one of Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl winners; Casket
Image from one of Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl winners; Casket

Back in October, I wrote, directed and edited an entry for Doritos’ annual Crash the Superbowl contest entitled, “Rest in Chips.”  My commercial was about a dead guy who’s last wish was to be buried in a casket full of Doritos but to the surprise of everyone at his funeral, it turns out he faked his death and is alive inside the casket of chips that eventually gets knocked over.  Sound familiar?  It might if you watched the Super Bowl last night.  Because during the first quarter of the big game, Doritos aired the three winners of the Crash the Super Bowl contest and the third winning ad they showed just happened to be about a dead guy who’s last wish was to be buried in a casket full of Doritos but to the surprise of everyone at his funeral, it turns out he faked his death and is alive inside the casket of chips that eventually gets knocked over!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t MY fake-funeral/Casket-full-of-Doritos-that-gets-knocked-over entry.  It was another entry called “Casket” and it was created by a team of filmmakers from a “non-denominational megachurch” in LA called Mosaic that’s popular with aspiring filmmakers and actors. The church is headed by a well known author, producer and self-professed leader named Erwin Mcmanus and he funded the production of “Casket.”  (you can read about Mosaic and their Crash the Superbowl aspirations here)  Here’s their ad:



I’m sorry to say it but I suspect that the team that made “Casket” may have stolen several of their ideas from me.  How can that be?  Well first, here is the entry that I created for the Crash the Super Bowl contest, “Rest in Chips:”



Sure, they’re not on the same level technically, but there are so many similarities between the stories of “Casket” and “Rest in Chips” that I’ve had a hard time accepting that they’re just coincidences.  If you ignore the aesthetic differences between the two entries (camera quality, location, music) you’ll see that they share many common key elements.  (The kind of stuff you’d see in the scripts for each spot)  Really, the only significant difference in the two stories is WHY the two “dead” guys each decide to fake their deaths.  Other than that, in just 30 seconds, both ads manage to feature:

1. A dead man’s last wish to be buried in a casket full of Doritos

2. A “dead” man who turns out to actually be alive

3. A fake funeral orchestrated by the “dead” man as part of a nefarious scheme

4. A framed photo of the “dead” guy enjoying a bag of Doritos next to the casket

5. Shots of that guy in his casket buried up to his face in chips

6. Unsuspecting mourners who scream/gasp in surprise when the hoax is revealed

7. A climax in which the “dead” guy gets his comeuppance when the casket of chips is knocked over

That’s a lot for just 30 seconds, isn’t it!?  Well, the coincidences don’t stop there.  As it turns out, all of those elements can also be found in this crude animated storyboard that I made weeks before I went out and shot my entry:



Yeah…see where I’m going with this?  I created that storyboard as a test to see if I could fit all the dialogue and action into 30 seconds.  Then I posted it to youtube so that I could send the link to friends so they could give feedback on the idea.  The above version was posted to youtube on October 12th, 2009.  But that is actually the second version.  I posted the first version of the storyboard video on October 6th and named it “Doritos Storyboard.”  After about a week, a friend actually said to me, “aren’t you worried that another contestant could see that and steal your idea?”  I realized he was right and that I had made a dumb mistake.  Because the video was named “Doritos Storyboard,” any prospective Crash the Superbowl contestant who went to youtube to watch last year’s winning entries or other Doritos-related videos for inspiration could have seen my storyboard.  In fact, it would have appeared at the top of the page if the results were “sorted by date.”  So I pulled the original version and replaced it with the generically named “Dortest” version around October 12th.

The funeral photo used in "Casket"
The funeral photo used in "Casket"

A week or so after the submission period for the Crash the Superbowl contest closed, I saw “Casket” and I was flabbergasted.  I remembered the storyboard on youtube and immediately suspected that I had been ripped off.  I had to do something about it so I did what any self-respecting dork would do.  I blogged about it. I first compared the two ads in this blog post from November 19thA Tale of Two Caskets (full of Doritos.) Since “Casket” was so slickly produced, I was worried right from the start that it might make it to the finals.  So while Doritos was still evaluating all 4,000+ entries they received, I e-mailed them my concerns on December 9th.  They responded to my e-mail and said the company’s “legal team” would look into it.

Since the official rules said that Doritos judges were supposed to assign each entry a score, and since 40% of that score was supposed to be based on “originality and creativity,” I assumed that even if there wasn’t plagiarism, I uploaded my casket-full-of-doritos entry to the contest site first, so logically, that would impact “Casket’s” originality score.  And in a competition with 4,000+ submissions, the Top 6 videos would probably be decided by just fractions of a point.  So losing even a few originality points would end an entry’s chances of winning, right?

Boy was I wrong about that one.  On January 5th, 2010, “Casket” was announced as one of Doritos’ 6 CTSB finalists.  And man, let me tell you, I flipped the F%^& out.  I wasn’t just mad because a team of filmmakers that may have ripped me off had just won $25,000 and a trip to the Super Bowl, though.  In a way, I was much more upset with Doritos.  They knew that somewhere out there a filmmaker suspected that the “Casket” team had plagiarized his entry/storyboard.  There were tons and tons of awesome videos submitted to this year’s competition. Why did they have to pick the one video that they knew would drive some poor guy crazy and maybe even get them into legal trouble!?

The funeral photo used in "Rest in Chips"
The funeral photo used in "Rest in Chips"

A single question has been on my mind since I first saw “Casket” back in November.  “When did they come up with that idea?”  Obviously the entry was a very elaborate production.  Maybe they had spent months working on the thing.  If it turned out that the team came up with the concept for their entry prior to say, the start of October, then there was no chance they could have stolen the concept from me….unless they were mind readers.

I’m not insane and I’m not some jerk who likes ruining other people’s moments of glory.  I absolutely, positively do not want to paint anyone as plagiarists if they’re totally innocent.  I also really do not want to put my life on hold while I engage in a copyright battle with a megachurch and a multinational corporation if I don’t have to.  In the last few weeks I have exchanged many e-mails with FritoLay and the lawyer for the “Casket” team (yes…they already got a lawyer and it seems like he was hired just to deal with this issue.) I have asked them over and over and over and over to PLEASE, send me some kind of documents, materials or other proof that “Casket” was an independent creation that wasn’t wrongfully derived from my works.  My sincere hope has been that someone would want to provide me some kind of evidence that would put me, and my family and friends who support me, at ease.  I would have been happy just to see some copies of some e-mails that showed that their idea pre-dated the creation of my script for “Rest in Chips.”  If they could prove they were innocent, or even just offer a credible explanation, then I could apologize, drop the whole thing and move on with my life.

The beautifully drawn funeral photo from the storyboard video for "Rest in Chips"
The beautifully drawn funeral photo from the storyboard video for "Rest in Chips"

But even though the filmmakers behind “Casket” have known for weeks, and probably even months that some crackpot out in the suburbs of Chicago was accusing them of plagiarism they have not done one thing to counter my claims.  I have asked repeatedly for some shred of proof that they weren’t guilty of ripping me off.  But according to their lawyer, they don’t want to give me ammunition in case I sue them.

Let’s cut the BS here.  If there was some A%&hole running around the Internet, endangering my commercial’s chances of airing during the Superbowl and telling Doritos and the rest of the world that I might have stolen some of their ideas, you know what I’d do?  I’d shut that guy down immediately with a big facefull of proof.  I’d e-mail the guy and tell him he was full of s%^&.  I’d write my own blog posts and fill them with proof that my works were independent creations.  For God’s sakes, I’d offer to take a lie detector test if the guy wanted me to!  I would immediately do whatever it took to shut down a false accusation of plagiarism against me.

Now what I wouldn’t do is hire a lawyer if I had nothing to hide and I certainly wouldn’t keep my “proof” hidden from the world.  I think the thing that most makes me believe that I was ripped off is the fact that none of these people have ever contacted me to simply say “You’re wrong, and here’s why….”

The other thing that makes me think I was ripped off are the cold, hard, dirty facts.

Alive in a casket full of Doritos.  From "Casket"
Alive in a casket full of Doritos. From "Casket"

Here are my facts:  I wrote my script for “Rest in Chips” around October 1st.  I created an awesome-looking animated storyboard based on my script and first uploaded it to youtube on October 6th. That video could have been seen by anyone searching for Doritos-related videos up until about October 12th.  I shot my entry on October 25th, I posted my first rough cut to the web on October 28th and I uploaded my final entry to the Crash the Super Bowl contest site around November 5th.

Because Doritos and the Mosaic team would not even tell me WHEN the idea for “Casket” was born, I decided to do some digging myself.  And by “digging” I mean I just read the articles that showed up in my google alert notices.  The information below all comes from interview quotes from members of the “Casket” team.  These are my sources (1) (2) (3) (4)  Here’s what I’ve learned in the last few weeks:

1.  The idea for “Casket” was first suggested in a Mosaic pitch meeting that seems to have taken place in early October, probably around October 9th.

2.  The idea for “Casket” was pitched by one member of the group.  The group decided to shoot the idea and the person who suggested the idea then “wrote the original script.”

3. At least 4 other people are credited as having co-written or contributed to the script for “Casket.”

4. “Casket” was shot in one day on November 1st and the entry was uploaded just before the deadline on November 9th.

Alive in a Casket full of Doritos. From "Rest in Chips"
Alive in a Casket full of Doritos. "Rest in Chips"

As I said, members of the “Casket” team shared all of this information during interviews so unless they all lied to several reporters, the above points are facts.  And these facts line up perfectly with my theory of how I may have been plagiarized.  FritoLay has had a timeline of when I created the various incarnations of my Crash the Superbowl entry since mid-December.  I explained weeks ago that I wrote my script shortly after the Crash the Superbowl contest began and then created an animated storyboard version of my script and uploaded it to youtube on October 6th.

For roughly a week, the storyboard was on youtube and could be seen by anyone doing a search for videos tagged “Doritos.”  The “Casket” team has gone on record stating that from the day they decided to shoot an entry for this contest to the day they uploaded their video, only a month had gone by.  That means that their pitch meting seems to have happened right at the time my storyboard was visible on youtube.

Alive in a casket full of Doritos. From the video storyboard for "Rest in Chips"
Alive in a casket full of Doritos. From the video storyboard for "Rest in Chips"

I find it very hard to believe that not one member of a large, well-organized team of professional filmmakers went to youtube before their pitch session to research last year’s winning entries and watch other Doritos related videos.  I have known about the Mosaic pitch meeting for a while and my theory has been that one member of the team prepared for that pitch meeting by doing some Doritos research on youtube beforehand.  While there, they saw my storyboard, realized the idea would work great in one of Mosaic’s churches (I think they have 7 total) and probably figured that the concept was fair game and took it.  Now that I know when that pitch meeting took place, I suspect that my theory accurately describes how things happened.  And since it seems that as many as 5 people contributed to the story of “Casket,” that explains the differences between my works and the final version of the other team’s entry.

The goal of Doritos’ Crash the Superbowl contest was for the winners to score a spot in the “Top 3” on the USA Today ad meter.  If one of the Doritos finalists were to be ranked the best spot of the game, the creators would get a million bucks.  Second best would get the filmmakers $600K and 3rd would get them $400K.  The ad meter results are in and one Doritos ad actually scored the #2 spot.  But “Casket” wound up being ranked #14.  (click here for the full ad meter results)

I mention this because I want everyone reading this to understand that there is no big jackpot that I am trying to grab a piece of here.  All the makers of “Casket” got was $25,000 and I’m sure that money is already divided up and gone.  So my concerns aren’t part of some crass sue-a-church-and-get-rich-quick scheme.  For me, this is about principle and as I’ve told the lawyers at Doritos many times, my number one goal is simply to find out the truth about what the heck happened here.

Now that the contest is all over, I really don’t know what I should do next.  Should I get a lawyer?  Should I seal myself up in a casket full of Doritos and pretend this never happened?  What the heck is the little guy supposed to do in this country when he suspects that some giant megachurch with deep pockets and lawyers on retainer infringed on his copyrights?

Right now, the only thing I know for sure is that next year, I’m entering Careerbuilder’s Super Bowl commercial contest.

BTW:  I normally post under the pseudonym “Beardy” but here’s info about the real me.  Ironically, I do not actually have a beard.  If anyone (even a member of the “Casket” team) wants to contact me I can be reached at