Doritos: Can Lonely Island boost the cheesy snack's image?

Doritos launches sixth Super Bowl ad contest with a twist. Comic music group The Lonely Island will be competing to produce the winning Doritos ad.

Diane Bondareff/ AP Images for Doritos
Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer (left to right) of The Lonely Island, have fun on the set of a promotional shoot for Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" earlier this month in New York.

It's a huge opportunity: Write the winning TV commercial for Doritos, watch it aired during the big game this winter, and win, maybe, $1 million.

That could be a big career move for any wanna-be director: more than 100 million people viewing your ad; critics rating it; other advertisers watching it. It's all part of Doritos' “Crash the Super Bowl” contest. Although the cheese-snack brand has run the contest five years running, this year, there's a twist.

In addition to all the usual competition, Doritos has enlisted Andy Samberg and the musical comedy troupe The Lonely Island, of Saturday Night Live “Digital Shorts” fame, to make an ad to compete alongside the one chosen to run on Super Bowl Sunday.

If The Lonely Island wins, the group will donate the prize money to charity. If it doesn’t, they will collaborate with the Web competition winner on a “yet to be determined Doritos project.”

That's tough competition for Dorito-ad contenders, as there doesn’t seem to be anything that Lonely Island can’t effectively mine for comedy (their first SNL video was about lettuce). Their power to affect an image change, even in jest, is impressive. “Natalie’s Rap,” featured a then-squeaky clean actress Natalie Portman as a fighting, swearing boozer. It was a joke, but one that probably didn’t hurt her transition into darker, more adult roles in films like “Black Swan” and “V for Vendetta.”

They’ve even managed to make balladeer Michael Bolton cool again: “Jack Sparrow,” a skit featuring Bolton ruining a Lonely Planet song with his insistence on singing about his favorite movies, has 47 million YouTube hits so far. A live performance of the song with Bolton dressed as Johnny Depp’s character from “Pirates of the Caribbean” was a highlight of this year’s Emmy Awards telecast.

Here's how the Doritos contest works: Aspiring ad directors can upload their own commercials for a chance to appear as one of five finalists on the Doritos website. As in previous years, the ad that get the most fan votes will be screened during the Super Bowl. If an ad grabs the top spot on USA Today’s Ad Meter, which measures and ranks the popularity of each Super Bowl ad spot, that commercial’s creator will walk away with $1 million.

Even if the winner doesn't win the $1 million bonus, he or she will get instant visibility. Last year, 111 million viewers watched the Super Bowl. Airtime for ads in that spot ran at $3 million for a 30-second commercial.

Still, they have to beat Lonely Island.

Since they started filming sketches for SNL in 2005, Samberg and company have been the gold standard in viral videos. Their SNL spots, including “Lazy Sunday,” “On a Boat,” and an Emmy-winning collaboration with Justin Timberlake with a name that we can’t mention on this site, have garnered hundreds of millions of views on NBC’s website, Hulu, and YouTube. The group inspires fan response videos, T-shirts, and collaborations with celebrities like Natalie Portman, the rapper T-Pain, and even Lady Gaga.

If the Lonely Island guys can pull Michael Bolton back to cultural relevance, they can probably manage to do something funny with a cheesy corn chip.

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