Doritos stars are born in North Carolina

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So I’m down in North Carolina, at something called the Duke MBA Marketing Conference. There are some cool speakers, most entertaining among them Bob Young, who co-founded Red Hat and founded and now runs publisher (for want of a better word) Lulu. But the real stars are the Doritos kids–the ones from that Super Bowl ad.

Michelle Adams, Frito Lay’s director of consumer strategy & insights, invited them down from their hometown of Cary, N.C. for the day. I was on the opening panel this morning (topic: long tail yada yada yada). They were sitting a few rows back, and I kept staring at them. There’s the cheesy guy who crashed his car (Nick Dimondi)! There’s the spicy girl who tripped in the middle of the road (Cori Backus)! Cori really did smack her head on the pavement, by the way. It hurt, she says.

The rest of the Five Point Productions crew that made the ad were Dale Backus (Cori’s husband), and the Phillips brothers, Barrett and Wes. Nick and Wes are the oldest of the bunch, at 22, and Nick’s the only one who has been to college (Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University). The brothers’ father, Reed Phillips, provided the funding: $20 for a few bags of Doritos (they gave him back $8 in change).

“I want to meet their dad,” said Lulu’s Young upon hearing the story, “because I’ve given my kids $20 before, and they’ve never created a Super Bowl ad.” The senior Phillips also provided something more crucial than petty cash, though: the video editing equipment that his sons and their friends have been playing around with (and growing increasingly expert with) since their pre-teen years.

Much has been made about Frito Lay’s decision to use “consumer-generated content” for its Super Bowl ads. But the gang from Cary had actually started up an ad agency in the fall. They were professionals, or at least wannabe professionals. Sure, the Doritos ad contest was an exercise in consumer empowerment. But it was also a way of scouting advertising talent on the cheap. Sort of like a Hollywood agent of old discovering the next big star at the soda fountain at Schwab’s.

Update: I learned later that a key to the Five Point gang’s success was that they belong to big churches whose congregations voted for them en masse at the Doritos site. So that’s another important lesson here: Go to church.

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