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For Super Bowl Ads, More Social-Media Savvy

The Budweiser Clydesdales will be back. So will Jimmy Fallon and Jerry Seinfeld. Even K-pop sensation Psy will make an appearance. The Super Bowl commercials will undoubtedly generate as much buzz — or more — than the game itself.

According to CBS, some spots have gone for as much as $4 million. With an audience expected to be more than 100 million people, it's the biggest thing on television. But advertisers know they also need digital, and they're going to great lengths to get it.

Coca-Cola's 2013 Super Bowl ad is a race across the desert; online, people can vote for how it should end. They'll find out during the Super Bowl. Ford's Lincoln brand put out a call for the best tweets from consumers. One brand — the men's cosmetics line Axe — even promises to turn you into an astronaut.

Doritos was way ahead of the game. For the sixth year in a row, it's running a contest called Crash the Super Bowl, where people submit fully produced commercials. Out of some 3,000 entries, Doritos selected five finalists. People can vote for their favorites online.

And they're pretty impressive. In one, called "Fashionista Daddy," a little girl persuades her father to skip a backyard football game and play dress-up in exchange for some of her Doritos. Soon enough, his rough-and-tumble buddies get in on the fun — much to Mom's chagrin.

Two of the five finalist ads will air during the Super Bowl.

"Which ever one does better, the filmmaker will get a chance to work with Michael Bay on the next Transformers movie," says Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer for Frito-Lay, which owns Doritos. "If any one of them wins on the ad meter, they get a million bucks."

Mukherjee says the most that any of these finalists spent to produce their ads was $5,000 — a tiny fraction of what a professional agency would spend. But Mukherjee says Frito-Lay spent plenty of money running and promoting the contest. And drumming up a kind of reality-show anticipation is what it's all about: Doritos is getting national press, but also attention generated by these five filmmakers, who are naturally eager to spread the word.

"The No. 1 benefit to something like this is that your consumers actually become your billboards," Mukherjee says. "They're the ones who become the ambassadors, who talk about the integrity and authenticity of the brand."

Integrity. Authenticity. Doritos? That's funny to say in the same breath. But the contest is popular online, with more than 4 million "likes" on Facebook.

"The Pepsis, the Doritos of the world want as much social-media splash as they can get typically from these ads," says Chris Heine, a reporter for Adweek. He says brands like Doritos, Coke or Lincoln run these contests to give them something to talk about beyond their product.

"They release a press release, and then a lot of trade press [covers them]," Heine says. "It's kind of a 'release the hounds' situation — everyone reports about it."

Present company included.

Another commercial getting a lot of pregame buzz is by the same agency that did those popular Darth Vader commercials for Volkswagen for 2011's game. Deutsch LA's Mark Hunter says the pressure to get it right during the Super Bowl is huge.

"It really is the sort of one big glory moment that's left for advertising," Hunter says. "So we do think of it as very, very important and put a lot of time and energy into making those ads."

This time, Deutsch LA released a teaser that strings together popular YouTube videos of people having meltdowns.

"I think it just provided a sense of legitimacy to our message in a way," Hunter says. "This is really happening. The Internet is filled with people freaking out."

The agency tracked down those people, flew them to California, and took them to a hillside where reggae star Jimmy Cliff gets them happy.

But some people are angry about the Volkswagen commercial that will actually air during the Super Bowl, which they also released online. In it, a happy white guy from Minnesota speaks with a Jamaican accent.

A New York Times columnist told CNN it was like "blackface with voices." Bloggers called it offensive. Then a Jamaican government official told a reporter he likes it and thinks that others should heed the ad's message.

All this pregame attention is exactly what a brand wants. This way, maybe those millions of people watching the Super Bowl will actually be on the lookout for their ads.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.