Doritos ad contest raises the stakes; winners could earn $5M

Snack giant Frito-Lay Thursday will unveil plans to ramp up from two to three the number of consumer-created Doritos commercials it will air in the Super Bowl. It also will raise the potential booty for its latest Crash the Super Bowl contest from last year's $1 million to $5 million.

The online promotion urges folks to create 30-second spots for Doritos and post them for online voting to be picked to air in one of the three Super Bowl slots.

The stated goal for Doritos: to win the top three spots in USA TODAY's annual Super Bowl Ad Meter — a real-time consumer rating of how much folks like the game's ads as they air. (USA TODAY has no connection with Frito-Lay, Doritos or the contest.)

The real goal for Doritos: create social-networking buzz as users view the entries online, recommend or send favorites to friends, post links, etc. — so-called viral buzz. That and, of course, to sell lots of chips during its biggest season of the year.

"This is a new world where one person (online) can make a difference to millions," says Ann Mukherjee, group vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay. "If we can trust them with our brand, they become better ambassadors than we can ever be."

The barriers to entry are substantial, says Kathy Sharpe, owner of digital agency Sharpe Partners. It takes time to film the ad and money for production. A payoff is assured only for Frito-Lay, she notes. "Even if (the ads) don't win Ad Meter, they still get buzz and engage consumers with their brand."

Yet in the last Super Bowl, two unemployed brothers from Batesville, Ind., won Doritos' $1 million prize by finishing first in Ad Meter — and beating Madison Avenue's big-budget pros — with an ad about a guy who shatters a vending machine with his crystal ball after predicting free Doritos for everyone in the office.

This time, Doritos is offering $1 million for placing first in Ad Meter; $600,000 for second and $400,000 for third. If the spots finish 1-2-3, each will get a $1 million bonus, for a total of $5 million in prizes.

Taking the top three slots has been done before, most recently by Anheuser-Busch in 2007.

To promote its promotion — and tweak Madison Avenue — Doritos arranged with the city of New York to rename Madison Avenue Doritos Drive, just for Thursday, and give out free samples.

Folks enter by uploading self-made spots at from Sept. 21 to Nov. 16. Six finalists will be named in January, and online consumer voting will pick the three to air in the Super Bowl.

The game, to be broadcast on CBS, will be played in Miami on Feb. 7.