$2 Million Airtime, $13 Ad

Gino Bona, a graduate student, created a Super Bowl ad for the NFL that is being directed by an industry veteran.
Gino Bona, a graduate student, created a Super Bowl ad for the NFL that is being directed by an industry veteran. (Nfl Via Associated Press)
By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The YouTube Effect has crept into television's mightiest showcase for advertising: the Super Bowl.

For the first time, viewers of the biggest football game of the year, Sunday's Super Bowl XLI on CBS between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears, will see at least four ads that were created by amateurs, rather than by high-end ad agencies.

For advertisers, consumer-created content is a cost-savings bonanza. Advertisers are paying more than $2.6 million for the most expensive 30-second spot in this year's Super Bowl, up from $2.5 million last year. Just to produce a top-level 30-second ad can easily cost more than $1 million. A commercial produced by an amateur, by comparison, can be had for the price of a plane ticket and a trip to the game for the winner and some post-production cleanup for the ad itself.

For the ad creators, it's a shot at the big time and an end run around traditional barriers to appearing on advertising's biggest stage. Indeed, it could be a career starter -- more than 90 million viewers are expected to tune in to the Super Bowl.

"What this means is: You've got some kid with a video camera and he's playing on the same field as everyone else, and he did the whole [ad] for, what? A hundred bucks?" said veteran adman Kipp Monroe, with Herndon's White & Partners.

Weston Phillips is one of those kids. And he didn't spend anywhere near $100 to make his commercial.

Phillips is one of five finalists selected from 1,060 video submissions in a Doritos make-your-own Super Bowl ad contest. Phillips, 22, is a former audio-visual equipment installer who saved enough money to start a little ad business in North Carolina with three buddies.

Their Doritos entry, "Live the Flavor," stars his friend Nick Dimondi and Cori Backus, wife of his other friend-business partner, making a love connection thanks to Doritos. It cost $12.79 to make, Phillips said.

"We were trying to get into advertising in mid-October, a month or two before we saw the Doritos contest," Phillips said. "When we saw the prize -- $10,000 and your ad gets aired in the Super Bowl -- we really didn't think about the repercussions of having an ad in the Super Bowl. We were looking at the $10,000 and thinking, 'That would be pretty nice.' "

Before the contest, "we really didn't have a portfolio to speak of," Phillips said. Already, the ad has received widespread exposure on the Internet.

General Motors made a similar move this year, partnering with CBS to create a team competition among five groups of college students with the goal of making Chevrolet's Super Bowl ad.

Students from Elon University in North Carolina, San Jose State University, Savannah College of Art and Design, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee were picked from 820 teams and asked to dream up a Super Bowl ad. They were then filmed going through their creative struggles. These "webisodes" have the feel of CBS's "Survivor," "Big Brother" and "The Amazing Race."

The students are shown flummoxed when members of the Chevy team tell them that their ideas are interesting but many are simply too expensive to film.

"Consumer-generated ads, in the age of the Internet and YouTube, have truly come front and center," said Ed Peper, manager of GM's Chevrolet division.

The NFL also held auditions for its own commercials, a la "American Idol," where hopefuls could pitch a Super Bowl ad they'd like to create. Gino Bona, a graduate student and employee of a marketing firm in Maine, was selected out of 1,700 contestants. His ad, titled "It's Hard For Us, Too," is set at the conclusion of the Super Bowl and depicts fans' sadness at the end of the football season. It is being made by longtime commercial director Joe Pytka and paid for by the NFL.

This year's Super Bowl will air plenty of traditionally produced ads, as well.

For instance, Garmin -- a maker of Global Positioning System devices -- has created a Super Bowl ad that is an homage to campy Japanese monster movies like "Godzilla." In the spot, a hero in a silver body suit brandishes a small and handy GPS to defeat the unwieldy and destructive "maposaurus."

Other advertisers in Sunday's game include Anheuser-Busch, Nationwide insurance; Paramount Pictures; Coca-Cola; and first-time Super Bowl advertiser InfoUSA, a provider of mailing lists and sales leads, which produced its ad in-house, without the help of an agency.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company