Rookies Score Big at Super Bowl XLI

The ads of Super Bowl XLI were the gift that kept on giving.
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The ads of Super Bowl XLI were the gift that kept on giving.

(click thumbnail)"Check out Girl," the Doritos ad created by Kristin Dehnert of Pacific Palisades, Calif.The ads of Super Bowl XLI were the gift that kept on giving. The game itself between the Indianapolis Colts an the Chicago Bears was marred by rain and fumbles, but for those at my Super Bowl party in sunny So Cal, the plays on the field were just an opportunity to hit the fridge so we wouldn't miss a minute of the commercials in between. After all, CBS would always replay any significant action on the gridiron that we missed, but we'd have to rewind the Moxi DVR to review a key commercial.

Fortunately, the highlight of the extravaganza I was waiting for occurred shortly after the Bears' rookie Devin Hester, No. 23, returned the first kickoff 92 yards for a surprise opening touchdown.

In the first commercial break, right after a super-dumb blurb featuring some dude whacking his friend's head with a rock to win a beer, Frito Lay ran their "Live the Flavor" spot for Doritos chips made by first time broadcast wannabes. The rest of the game was left to the pros.

"Live the Flavor" is a simple piece of purely poetic, innocently novice inspiration. These guys just didn't know it couldn't be done.

As an aria from Verde's "La Traviata" distracts us, the spot starts with a close-up of a red Doritos bag on a car seat accompanied by the on-screen credit "Creator, Dale Backus."

Cut to the young driver (Nick Dimondi) opening the bag with his teeth. A girl (Cori Backus) walking by in wide shot carrying a similar sack of chips notices him, and in CU raises her Doritos bag in salute. Freeze to a rotoscoped white outline of the girl over a red field with the words "Spicy" near her smile.

Cut to CU of the driver as he lifts his bag in reply and freeze his goofy (yet hopeful) rotoscoped grin keyed over an orange field with the word "Cheesy." Drop the roto fx and--with the sting of an audio tire squeal sfx--the guy smashes his face into the steering wheel. The camera continues to move forward past the windshield leaving him out of frame. Music stops.

Fast cut back to the driver with added car crash sfx. The Doritos bag is crushed between his head and the steering wheel as a roto freeze brings on the word "Crunchy."

The Verde violins begin again and quick rear and front shots of the driver show him recovering. A CU of the girl as she sees his dilemma goes to a wide shot of her hurrying to his aid. Roto freeze with the word "Bold."

The operatic tenor's voice blends with sfx of nearby traffic breaking as the girl runs toward the driver's car.

Through the driver's side window,we see her approach. Roto freeze her face with the word "Smooth" just before she slips, falls, drops out of frame, and the car jerks as she smacks into the door. CU of driver looking toward the mishap. Wide shot from side as the girl picks herself up from the street, clutching her smashed bag of Doritos. Bring on the title "Live the Flavor" above the URL

"" while the guy leans out the window over the girl rubbing her head and they smile at each other.

The ad is flashy, romantic, sublimates the product to its humor, and makes little sense. What more could you ask for in a Super Bowl spot?

The ad's creator, Dale Backus of the recently formed Five Point Productions in Cary, N.C., said they had only four days to conceive, produce and post the commercial. But once it won, except for adding their logo, Doritos aired it unchanged. As Dale said, "It's a 30-second romantic comedy trying to personify the attributes of a Doritos chip. Since we already owned our equipment, the total production budget was just $12 for four bags of Doritos."

"Live the Flavor" was one of five, $10,000 winners of a national competition for "consumer-created Doritos tortilla chip ads" conducted by Frito-Lay North America, the $10 billion convenience foods division of PepsiCo.

More than 1,000 ads were uploaded to Yahoo! Video/Jumpcut between Oct. 10 and Dec. 4, 2006. Anyone could vote for their favorite commercial on the "Crash the Super Bowl" Web site, and when the polling closed on Jan. 19 at 11 p.m. Central Time, "Live the Flavor" was the winner by a 2 percent margin.

Knowing Super Bowl air time cost up to $2.6 million for a 30-second slot, Doritos took the gamble "to give consumers an opportunity to express themselves," as Ann Mukherjee, vice president of Frito-Lay marketing, said in a press release. "All five 'Crash the Super Bowl' finalists celebrated the Doritos brand and expressed their creativity in such unique ways."

The other top-voted ad from this campaign that ran during the Big Game was "Check Out Girl," created by Kristin Dehnert of Pacific Palisades, Calif. and the other three finalists' spots aired in March. These included: "A Chip Lover's Dream" by Jared Cicon of Claremont, Calif., "Duct Tape" by Joe Herbert and Dave Herbert of Batesville, Ind., and "Mouse Trap" by Billy Federighi of Beverly Hills, Calif.

All of them can be viewed on dozens of Web sites, but "Live the Flavor" crowned many lists in popularity. Principle photography for "Live the Flavor" was shot in 30p HDV by Barrett Phillips with a JVC ProHD HD100 camcorder who also created the rotoscope effect in Photoshop. It was edited by Barrett's brother Wes using Apple Final Cut Pro 5.1 on a dual processor G5 PowerMac system during a 16-hour session.

"We ingested the 30p from the JVC HDV camera without a glitch," Wes said. "The only major challenge was that since we were shooting in HD, and we knew the contest rules wouldn't allow other identifiable product names to appear in any of our shots, we didn't want anything disqualifying to be visible in the background. So we had to use FCP's effects capabilities to zoom in on some of the takes to make sure they were clean."

The final pratfall by actress Cori Backus where she falls on her face was a golden shot, though, Wes said. "It was the final setup of the first day's shooting," he said, "and we didn't have the heart to ask her for a retake. Luckily, when we looked at the footage the next day, the shot was hilarious. So we went with it."

Wes knows this was a great opportunity. "I can't imagine an executive at Doritos spending $2.6 million to air something that was produced for $12," he said. "But it really has opened some doors for us."