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$3M Gone in 30 Seconds: Pepsi Brand Managers Talk Super Bowl Ad Strategy

On Sunday, Feb 6, Super Bowl XLV will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. EST on Fox and fans everywhere will be glued to their sets to see who wins the advertising. (Oh, sorry, you thought this was something to do with the Steelers and the Packers? Whatever!)

One of the more interesting commercial experiments on the big game will again come from PepsiCo (PEP) which will run six commercials in total for Doritos and Pepsi Max. Four of those spots -- costing $3 million each -- will be made by consumers who entered a contest six months ago in hopes of having their homemade spots win an internet poll -- and a place within advertising's most coveted venue.

I talked to Rudy Wilson, vp-marketing on the Doritos brand at PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit and Angelique Krembs, vp-marketing on the Pepsi Max brand about why they gave $18 million of ad inventory to a bunch of rank amateurs:

BNET: How does the competition work, exactly?
Wilson: We've asked all our fans to submit commercials, just basically on the basis of their love for the product and brand. We received 5,600 submissions. Each of the brand teams got to a total of five finalists for Doritos and five for Pepsi Max. We're now turning those 10 commercials over to America who will vote to choose two Pepsi Max and two Doritos commercials. In addition to those four Doritos will choose one and Pepsi Max will choose one, so there will be a total of six. If any of the six spots get voted No. 1 on the USA Today Ad Meter, we'll give them $1 million.

Krembs: For Pepsi that's our entire buy in the Super Bowl, for Pepsico, period.

BNET: Why are you only advertising Pepsi Max in the Super Bowl and not Pepsi or Diet Pepsi, the flagship brands?
Krembs: Pepsi Max is a young brand that's just getting out there in terms of awareness. Pepsi Max is just a couple years old but we just relaunched in the fall of 2010. The reason why we're doing it in this particular way is because we have been watching our brethren at Frito Lay crash the Super Bowl so effectively, we thought it would be a really great way to add on to the passion for Pepsi Max. We have also have a great advertising campaign created in the traditional way. TBWA/Chiat/Day is the ad agency for Pepsi Max.

Wilson: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners is for Doritos.

BNET: What's the return on investment on the Super Bowl? It's very expensive and a lot of marketers will tell you that it's basically a waste of money of compared to directing the cash elsewhere.
Wilson: This program is a lot more than 30 seconds. We started in August. We measure buzz and media effectiveness. From an ROI standpoint it's definitely valued a lot more than if we just looked at the impressions of the 30 seconds alone/.

Krembs: The value of the engagement is kind of hard to measure in numbers. People are talking about it and engaged in it. It happens over a six-month timeframe.

Wilson: From our standpoint, if you pay $3 million for 30 seconds that's a lot of money per second. If you're paying $3 million over six months the value is obviously greater.

Krembs: The Super Bowl has consistently worked for us because it is an event that everybody watches and talks about and when you judge all the media you can buy, and the engagement factor, it's hard to get numbers against that but it's not hard to know that people are watching the Super Bowl for the commercials. It's a stage like no other. Once you have that stage you've got to put something powerful on that stage.

BNET: What are the chances of the two gay-themed Doritos ads running?
Wilson: They're not finalists. Those were one of our 5,600 consumer-generated ads. From our standpoint we picked what we think were the top 10 best.

BNET: The finalist ads seem similar in style. Are they actually original video from consumers or are they ideas your agencies have filmed?
Wilson: The consumers shot, edited and produced them on their own. The only thing we provided were a some music assets and an end-card treatment to make them standard with the brand.

BNET: You received 5,600 entries. What was the percentage of garbage entries that you had to discard?
Wilson: Believe it or not we had a struggle getting to our top 10. We do have a few that were blatant violations of the rules -- nudity or use of other brands or other companies. But whenever we received a submission like that we sent back a note from our moderators saying, 'Hey, we got your submission and X, Y and Z is wrong with that.' It's a small percentage.

BNET: How did the idea for the contest originate?
Wilson: The contest started five years ago when Doritos was a brand that was struggling, to be honest. We weren't part of the conversation. Sales were slowing down and we had lost a lot of equity with our core target of consumers. We weren't top of mind. The first time we did it with Doritos two 19 year-old kids ended up getting No. 5 on the USA Today Ad Meter.

BNET: Doritos is an established brand that can afford to take risks, but Pepsi Max is still in launch mode, to my mind. What's the strategic challenge there? Which drinkers are you trying to steal? Coke Zero?
Krembs: We've doubled our share since the relaunch. Our share is 0.8 percent; Diet Pepsi is a five share. coke Zero is about a 2 percent share. Coke Zero also launched a couple of years ago but they've also gone through a couple of relaunches. If we were starting from zero that's a more risky prop. But we relaunched the brand and it's got great traction.

BNET: What did the creative brief -- the instruction document the client usually gives its ad agency -- say?
Krembs: Zero calories, maximum Pepsi taste. We tried to be simple about the message and we were thrilled with the creative. We didn't give them targeting information in the brief. We gave them information about what the advertising looks like now and past advertising to give them a sense of the tone and we gave them some language around the tone: bold and funny.

Wilson: We also did a webcast where we offered people an opportunity to learn from the best on how to make a Super Bowl commercial. We had the two people who won the first one as well as the heads of Chiat and Goodby Silverstein.

BNET: Aren't your ad agencies annoyed that they aren't producing work for the premier showcase in all of advertising?
Krembs: Assuming you're following the playoff season you can't miss the Pepsi Max advertising [from Chiat]. I'm sure they wouldn't turn down the opportunity to be on the Super Bowl also but they get it. They're partners with us.