When it comes to television advertising, there is no bigger stage than the Super Bowl.
Huge national brands make big-budget spots, hoping to capture not just the 90 million pairs of eyeballs watching the game but also a piece of the national postgame water cooler conversation -- which ads were the funniest, or most creative (or most offensive or stupid)?
In the past, that equation has meant giving a top ad agency about $1 million dollars to dream up the minimovie that will move a product. After the pros think up the concept, they'll spend upwards of $500,000 to produce 30 seconds of Super Bowl-worthy film.
And then they'll be spend around $2.5 million to buy time from the television network that's airing the game, for a grand total of $4 million.
If it all comes together -- and if the people watching think it's good -- all that time and money can translate into business-building buzz. Who had heard of GoDaddy.com before they stamped their logo on a bosom-baring Super Bowl ad in 2005?
But this year is less about wardrobe malfunctions and more about the compay's gamble to forgo the expensive ad agencies for the common man.
Doritos, the nation's biggest brand for flavored corn chips, decided to use the user-generated trend to their advantage, launching a contest where amateur ad men and women could do it all: Come up with the concept for a Super Bowl spot, and even shoot and edit the ad.
The winner would see their ad -- every frame of it -- right there in the Super Bowl telecast, as would half the country. It's a risky proposition by any measure, because Doritos didn't know what kind of response the contest would get.
The company got more than 1,100 ads from people all across the country. That's more than 500 minutes of Super Bowl chip pitches for next to nothing in cost to the company. And, of course, while some are good -- the five finalists all have a professional look and relatively good comic timing -- some are, well, less than good.
The contest has some outside help as well -- it's catching a lot of online buzz in the blogosphere, not to mention feature stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
And Doritos is not the only brand hoping to hitch its commercial wagon to the brains of creative consumers.
General Motors held a contest asking college students from around the country to come up with ideas for its Chevy brands. One team of students got the green light for its concept and shot an ad that will air during the game.
Even the NFL itself is trying its hand at consumer-generated buzz. After the game, the league generally takes a moment -- and a $2.5 million spot -- to thank its fans for their loyalty during the season. This year, a rabid fan, Gino Bona of Portsmouth, N.H., pitched an ad focused on fans that will wrap up the season with the tag line: "It's hard for us, too."
His commercial -- one of 1,700 ideas that real fans brought to "American Idol"-style tryouts around the country -- is being shot by Joe Pytka, one of the ad world's most prolific and respected directors.
These companies are jumping on a branding bandwagon that got started years ago.
Left-wing political group MoveOn.org ran a user-made ad contest back in 2004 called "Bush in 30 Seconds." The group was looking for a grassroots ad they could run during the Super Bowl that would skewer President Bush, who at the time was running for re-election.