When Dannon decided to spend $3.5 million to air its first Super Bowl commercial, it chose an unconventional way to create it. Instead of engaging Y&R, its ad agency of record, it ran a competition through Poptent, a website that hosts a network of 43,000 videographers throughout the world.
The winner would get $10,000 and the chance to have their work seen by the more than 100 million people expected to watch the game Sunday, Feb. 5, between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. Thirty-one video aficionados sent in their clips, ranging from humorous sketches to family bits to serious product testimonials.
Dannon announced the winner on Jan. 19. It turned out to be a couple of brothers, Remy Neymarc, 21, and Andrew, 23, who had previously produced commercials for Poptent that had stood out. "This was our first big production," said Remy Neymarc, who took a break from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., to pursue a career in advertising and filmmaking. "It was a very challenging brief."
Like Dannon, more big consumer companies are pursuing a new approach to ad creation, tapping the so-called "wisdom of the crowds" through crowdsourcing, the technique of making an open call for help on a project via the Web. In the advertising business, the use of crowdsourcing is opening doors for new, young talent that may never had had a chance to land jobs the traditional way on Madison Avenue. People like the Neymarc brothers.
"Traditionally we produce our advertising with Y&R," said Michael Neuwirth, a Dannon spokesperson. "As we were planning for our first Super Bowl campaign, we wanted to expand the thinking and explore the options of crowdsourcing."
Biggest One-Day Event
The Super Bowl is the largest one-day televised event in terms of ad spending. This year's game will feature 70 commercial spots cost advertisers an average $3.5 million each to air on NBC, producing an estimated $245 million in revenue. By contrast, last year's World Series brought in $269 million over the course of seven games, according to the research site Kantar Media.
Every Super Bowl ad is now paired with a website, a Facebook campaign, an email campaign”
The massive size of the Super Bowl audience can supercharge an ad career, said Tim Calkins, 46, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Those new to marketing can play to the desire of advertisers to link a TV ad with a presence on the Web, he said. "Every Super Bowl ad now is paired with a website, a Facebook page and an email campaign," said Calkins. "If you're a new creative person those can be great opportunities to produce something original."
That's likely to be the case for the Neymarc brothers, whose 30-second spot features actors John Stamos of "Full House" fame and Jessica Blackmore of "The Sacred" fighting over a cup of Dannon's Oikos Greek Yogurt. Getting the ad seen during the Super Bowl, is "a foot in the door for those who don't have any contacts in the advertising industry," said Andrew Neymarc.
Marc Simons, 28, saw a similar opportunity in 2009 while working at Ignition Factory, a creative incubator run by Omincom's media agency OMD. Simons proposed contracting with music app developer Shazam to help extend the reach of Levi's Dockers' "Men Without Pants" commercial, which ran during Super Bowl XLIV on CBS.
When consumers identified, or "tagged," the commercial's song on their mobile devices, they were brought to a contest to win a free pair of pants. Dockers ended up giving out over 500 pairs of khakis within the first 24 hours. The brand was the most searched term on Google post-Super Bowl, said Jen Sey, senior vice president of Dockers' global marketing division. "We were very pleased with the outcome of the partnership," she said.
Use of digital ads and techniques such as crowdsourcing has changed the dynamic between seasoned and new talent on Madison Avenue, said Zain Raj, 48, chief executive of the marketing network Hyper Marketing and the author of "Brand Rituals: How Successful Brands Bond with Customers for Life."
"Traditionally the model has been to put in the best and most seasoned creative people on Super Bowl ads, since those are the people who have proven themselves in most cases," he said. "But brands are seeing that younger people not caught up on the paradigm of what a Super Bowl ad should look like can actually make a difference."
Younger talent also costs less, said Neil Perry, 60 president of the crowdsourcing company Poptent, based in San Clemente, Calif. "We provide a large variety of work for a brand to choose from and we do it for about a tenth of the cost of traditional production methods," he said. The average production cost of a television commercial runs between $500,000 and $700,000, while it can cost $1.5 million or more to produce a Super Bowl commercial, said Steve Minichini, president of interactive marketing at the New York media agency TargetCast tcm.
Poptent acquires content through its videographer members, charging companies an average of $45,000 for every purchased spot. The site pays its members between $7,500 and $10,000 for every completed assignment that gets purchased by one of Poptent's clients. Those clients include Procter & Gamble, Anheuser-Busch, American Express and Dell, as well as ad agencies, said Perry.
"Crash the Super Bowl"
The idea of tapping into crowds for independently produced Super Bowl commercials got its start in 2006 when PepsiCo ran banner ads on Yahoo and other sites, asking anyone over 18 with a video camera to send in pitches for its Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, said Calkins.
That year, Dale Backus, 26, and Wes Phillips, 27, working under the name 5 Point Productions, created their first Doritos spot, "Live the Flavor," which ran on CBS during Super Bowl XLI. Like Remy and Andrew Neymarc, they received $10,000 for their contribution, paid to them by PepsiCo.
"I saw this online banner for the Doritos contest at the time and I thought it looked interesting," said Backus, who was 21 when the spot aired. "We entered the contest kind of late and shot our ad in four days to get it in on time."
After their Super Bowl spot aired that February, Backus, Wes and a few other friends produced two spots for a regional hospital and a trailer for the movie Superbad. In 2009 the 5 Point Productions team created two more Doritos spots. One, "Underdog," ran on NBC during Super Bowl XLIV, netting the team $25,000 up front and an additional $600,000 from PepsiCo after it ranked number two on USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter -- a live survey taken among a selected panel of viewers that rates each commercial from best to worst.
Backus and Wes used their share of the money to launch SmallHD, which manufactures and sells HD monitors and other video equipment. "The Doritos campaign definitely propelled us," said Backus.
For its biggest projects, Poptent selects only some of its users as entrants. The Neymarc brothers competed against 31 other network members chosen by Poptent and produced three commercials for Dannon before their winning piece was selected and reshot with Stamos and Blackmore.
While crowdsourcing provides more open doors for those outside of Madison Avenue, it does not diminish the role of traditional advertising agencies, said Dannon's Neuwirth.
"They each have different strengths and different values that they bring to the equation," he said. "We see it as a potential complimentary model with a lot of built in efficiencies. Poptent doesn't have a bench of strategy advisors that work on corporate and media planning as well as advertising and Y&R doesn't have a network of 43,000 videographers."
Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com