While the 21 Crash ads that have aired in the past decade are
far from sophisticated -- sight gags and pet tricks abound --
tortilla-munching Americans seem to love them. The winning spots
have earned top-five rankings on the USA Today Ad Meter every year
in which they have aired, including four No. 1 rankings. Ad-scoring
firm Ace Metrix ranks Doritos No. 1 on its list of
the most effective Super-Bowl advertised brands from 2010-2015,
ahead of Pepsi, Coke and
Budweiser and other brands that typically use big-name ad
When Crash started, "a lot of people were really quite cynical
and skeptical about it," said Ace Metrix CEO Peter Daboll. But "I
think it's really proven and called into question the traditional
agency model. It showed that great creative can come from
Frito-Lay North America Chief Marketing Officer Ram Krishnan
credits Crash for helping grow Doritos from a $1.54 billion U.S.
brand in 2006 to a $2.2 billion brand today. "It's not a
one-and-done deal on the game day. It's basically this five-to
six-month engagement program that we had with the consumer," said
Mr. Krishnan, who has overseen Crash since 2012. "That made it
completely pay off for us."
So why stop now? Mr. Krishnan pointed to the generational shift
in Doritos' core target from millennials to Gen Z, the label for
the children of Gen Xers who are approaching their 20s. When
Doritos first targeted millennials with Crash in 2006 for the 2007
Super Bowl, the media landscape was much different. YouTube was in
its infancy, Twitter was barely known, the iPhone had not been
launched yet and MySpace was still popular.
By turning over its Super Bowl ad to amateurs, Doritos was
providing a "stage for the consumers to shine," Mr. Krishnan. But
Gen Z is "not waiting to be discovered," he said. "They themselves
are earning success by putting out their own YouTube channel and
creating content for that. The role of the brand and the value that
we add with this consumer has changed."
Even so, Doritos is not giving up on user-generated content.
Rather, the brand is dialing it up, but in a new format. A program
launched late last year called "Legion of the Bold" holds clues as
to where Frito-Lay is headed with Doritos.
The initiative involves asking the general public for creative
ideas throughout the year on everything from Vine videos to banner
ads. Consumers sign up via a website where they respond to frequent
pitches. So far Doritos has signed up 5,000 users who have created
800 pieces of content based on 21 creative briefs, Mr. Krishnan
said. Winning entrants are paid based on the complexity of the
brief, he said. This Vine below is one example:
The program, if anything, is a reflection of the diminishing
role of the 30-second TV spot in the digital era. "What we are
doing is creating a platform that they [pitch ideas] 365 days a
year instead of making this big deal about this one moment of time
that we did once a year," Mr. Krishnan said.
And in doing so, Doritos will once again bypass ad agencies, at
least for creative ideas. When the brand first took that approach
with Crash, it caused a stir on Madison Avenue. "Crowdsourcing
something like this was totally frowned upon by the industry when
we started this project out," Jeff Goodby, whose Goodby Silverstein & Partners
agency assists with promoting Crash, stated in an email interview.
"It was considered a cop out, lazy, not doing our job, even timid
But "in time, of course, the quality of the stuff that came in
for Crash got so high that success was undeniable," he added. "The
project was beating the best agencies in the world, creating the
most buzz, winning the USA Today Ad Meter. You'd think that would
irritate the agencies even more, but instead it somehow made
crowdsourcing gradually more acceptable."
Dawn Hudson, the National Footbal League's chief marketing
officer who has held executive roles at ad agencies and at PepsiCo,
agrees. One reason that crowdsourcing is no longer as threatening
to agencies is because shops still play a role, she said. "You
still need people to organize it," she said. Crash didn't happen
"because consumers decided to do it. This program happened because
somebody had the idea, organized it, made it happen, provided the
vehicles." She added: "The agency world is as relevant as ever, if
not arguably more relevant, as more crowdsourced individual ideas
have come to pass."
Ace Metrix's Mr. Daboll pointed out that "we are still not
seeing this abandoning of the traditional agency model. But you are
seeing companies ... help to enable this direct-to-producer model."
Examples of creative crowdsourcing firms include Mofilm -- which
has curated content for the likes of General Motors and
Unilever, according to its website -- and Tongal, which has secured
ads for Anheuser-Busch, Procter & Gamble, Lego, General Mills, Bacardi
In the case of Crash, the cost of crowdsourcing a Super Bowl
spot is about on par with securing an ad via an agency, according
to a brand spokesman. While Crash has been tweaked over the years,
the general structure remains the same: Doritos takes submissions
beginning in the fall. The brand selects finalists and consumers
vote on which ad will run in the Super Bowl. In some years, Doritos
execs have picked an additional spot to run. This year, only one ad
In the early days, one of the brand's biggest fears was ensuring
it had the bandwidth to handle all of the submissions, recalled
Jason McDonell, who was an early advocate for Crash while serving
as the senior marketing director overseeing Doritos in 2006. Ads
poured in right at the deadline because people didn't want to give
away their ideas to others. "The last 12 hours were a bit
unnerving," said Mr. McDonell, currently the president of PepsiCo
Foods Canada. The winning ad that first year, "Live the Flavor,"
(below) earned a No. 4 ranking in the Ad Meter, bolstering
Frito-Lay's case to keep the program running.
Entrants often have some filmmaking experience but are looking
for their first big break. They are people like Mark Freiburger,
whose ad, "Fashionista Daddy," aired in the 2013 Super Bowl.
Mr. Freiburger, who was age 29 when he entered, had previously
never made a commercial, although he had two small independent
films to his credit, he said. He was enticed to enter Crash by that
year's prize: the chance to work with director Michael Bay on the
next installment of the "Transformers" movie franchise.
He shot the Doritos ad in eight hours, using a friend's house as
the setting. It only cost $300 to make, he said. "We got just a
bunch of friends to come out and everybody brought equipment and
donated their time," he said.
The ad ended up raking No. 4 on the Ad Meter, putting it ahead
of professionally produced spots for the likes of Coke, Pepsi and
Toyota. Mr. Freiburger's spot consisted of a group of dads dressing
up like princesses as a way to gain access to a young girl's bag of
Doritos (below). It was, like all Crash ads, not exactly highbrow
stuff. And that's kind of the point.
It's "not rocket science," Mr. Freiburger said. "You have to
think about what your audience is for the Super Bowl, which is
massive groups of people sitting around eating food together ...
and people drinking beer in loud environments," he added. "They
want to laugh. They want goofy. They want over-the-top."
For the past 10 years, Doritos gave viewers exactly that.