Super Bowl Doritos ad lands one aspiring filmmaker a cool million [Video]
Orange County native Kevin T. Willson has worked with special needs children, helped bedridden elderly people in Third World countries acquire wheelchairs for the first time and watched as AIDS orphans in South Africa were given permanent homes. But nothing can quite compare to the feeling he had watching his Doritos commercial play during the Super Bowl.
As a participant in Doritos' annual Crash the Super Bowl commercial contest, Willson's 30-second spot, "Sling Baby," became one of two ads selected from more than 6,100 submissions to air during Madison Avenue's most holy night.
"When it aired, 1,000 tons of stress and pressure went away," the 34-year-old Willson said on Wednesday, the day after the ad was selected as No. 1 in the USA Today Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter ranking the favorite ads from the big game.
The commercial, which aired during the game's second quarter, features a young boy taunting his infant brother and wheelchair-bound grandmother with a bag of Doritos. Disapproving of the kid's behavior, granny launches baby boy into the air with his baby sling, allowing the kid to snag the bag from his shocked brother.
Willson shot the ad for about $2,700 in a friend's backyard using the infant son of the guy who did the visual effects of the soaring baby.
"We submitted it and had a pretty good feeling about it," he said. "We knew we had something cool."
The ad became one of five finalists selected by Frito-Lay and purchased for $25,000. But Willson didn't know if it would air until he actually saw it playing on national TV. The two ultimate winners were selected by Frito-Lay executives and by online votes.
This was the third time he'd been a finalist in the contest. The first time, his Doritos ad "Casket" aired, but it didn't cause much of a stir. The second time, the ad was a finalist but didn't air. "It was heartbreaking," he said. "I felt like I got dumped by a supermodel."
But the third time's the charm. And with the ad's top ranking on USA Today's ad meter, Willson landed an additional $1 million and a chance to direct another ad for Doritos with Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone of the Lonely Island comedy troupe.
"It's insanely cool," Willson says. "Last night was the best night of my life."
Willson, who has been paying the bills as a documentary filmmaker for humanitarian causes such as Free Wheelchair Mission, has harbored dreams of becoming a comedic commercial director since college.
"Those [other] things have been very rewarding to work on, but creatively my passion has always been comedy that everyone can enjoy," he said.
He's done comedy shorts and shot three additional spec commercials paid for on his own credit cards. But not even getting his first ad aired during the Super Bowl was enough to land him a professional gig.
"I'm hoping this will help me," he says.
As for the reward money, he's not a millionaire yet — not by a long shot. The money is going to the team that worked on the film, as well as the friends who oversaw the push on social media to get it to the top. In total, that's 40-50 people. And everyone's getting a cut.
To Willson, it's the opportunities coming his way that's the important thing. And one other thing:
"When Tony Matta [vice president of marketing for Frito-Lay North America] called to say we were getting $1 million, I wanted to make sure it would be one of those oversize checks."
— Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Kevin Willson, left, and producer Jeff Edwards. Credit: Jason Sorge.