It may go down in history as one of the best TV ads during Super Bowl Sunday 2014, but for producer and co-writer Raj Suri, his “Doritos Time Machine” commercial is proof that ingenuity, even on a shoestring budget, can trump high-end Hollywood productions any day.
“People spend millions of dollars to do what we did and we did it for $300,” said Suri.
For months, Suri spent his nights and days flipping between tortilla and computer chips. The moonlighting filmmaker is a genuine computer scientist who works as a system analyst at Intel’s Technology Manufacturing Group in Ocotillo, Ariz, where he helps produce cutting edge transistors that go into computer brain chips, including Intel Core processors for laptops and Intel Atom processors for tablets.
Between the free location, talent, and crew that had top notch gear used to create the TV commercial, Suri said that he had to pay for an LA actor’s gas and food, and the rest of his budget went to cover the costs of a few props, wardrobe, and more gas and food for the crew. Even the centerpiece cost little to nothing, but the old cardboard box time machine was brought to life through humorous, reality suspending storytelling that connected with all ages.
In the contest-winning ad, a boy named Jimmy convinces a Doritos-eating Mr. Smith to try his makeshift time machine, a contraption that the boy claims is powered by the tortilla chips. Mr. Smith willingly trades his bag of chips for a trip through time in the cardboard box. From outside, Jimmy shakes the box using his feet while he enjoys the rest of Mr. Smith’s Doritos. An older man scurries toward the box to shoo Jimmy off his lawn just as Mr. Smith emerges from the time machine. Mr Smith mistakes the man for an older Jimmy, believing he’s now decades into the future.
“The basic idea came from our director Ryan Andersen’s 6-year-old son named Gavin, who is the little boy in the ad,” said Suri, who pointed out that even the dog that appears in the ad belongs to Gavin.
After seeing the movie ‘Back to the Future,’ Gavin kept asking his dad to build a time machine. That sparked Suri to grab his laptop, open Microsoft Word and begin drafting a script.
The commercial was shot in 8 hours using a Black Magic Cinema camera and edited in 80 hours using Final Cut Pro on a Mac. When it was finished, Suri turned to his computer again and started spreading the word fast. He knew that if enough people saw the 30-second spot, they’d find it irresistible and from there he could attract enough votes to win the million dollar prize.
“I wouldn’t be an Intel engineer unless I used Excel somehow,” he said, “so I used Excel to create a matrix of the different markets we were going to approach to promote.”
“I used Tweetdeck in Chrome to manage my personal twitter and the @DoritosTimeMach accounts,” he said.“Everyone who shared our commercial got a response and a follow. We made sure we engaged.”
The most notable tweets were from Senator John McCain, Chaz Bono, and Frank Beamer, the head coach of the Virginia Tech football team.
This was Suri’s fourth consecutive year competing in the Doritos user generated video competition. None of his attempts cost more than $800 to create. Even if “Time Machine” was one of the cheapest ads he has created for the competition, it was that one that went on to be viewed by more than 110 million people worldwide during the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks game.
Suri and his teammate Anderson were invited by Doritos to attend the big game and that’s where they learned that their commercial won, after pre-Super Bowl online voting determined that it beating out 5,400 entries from 30 nations fighting for a million dollar prize sponsored by Doritos.
“Doritos had us all in a skybox at the stadium with marketing and advertising execs,” recalled Suri. When the Doritos ad aired in the first commercial break, he started jumping and screaming.
“Ryan, who is a single dad and a ‘starving artist,’ was crying,” said Suri. “No, I didn’t cry. I’ll just say that I had something in my eye. It was just a really special moment.”
After the game, the two of them immediately hit the road to tell their story on TV, Radio and to newspaper journalists.
Looking back, Suri said what he learned most was how to get people enrolled in an idea and rally around it.
“We wanted everyone who watched the ad online before the Super Bowl to be part of the team, not just to buy the product, but to be part of our team, and vote for us and the ad,” he said. “We made sure we took people along on the ride with us.”
If he were to do it again, he’d find a way to share social media.
“We needed a better way to make sure that pics or posts got on all of our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. We didn’t really have a good solution this time around.”
What is he and Anderson going to do with the million dollar prize money? Most likely pay it forward.