Intuit Me This, Super Bowl
Wrong again? Anyway, you must have intuited by now that the financial accounting software maker (which actually produces Quicken and TurboTax) will advertise on the Super Bowl.
All joking aside, spot-wise, Intuit’s Q and TT products would seem to provide an ad agency something of a hook in the Big Game ad tradition. You know, the old room-full-of–suited-monkeys-working–technology bit? How about a blindfolded Willie Nelson Turbo-ing his taxes? Not a crowd-pleaser?
Instead, in its wisdom, the agency RPA came up with a client- and PR-generating competition called "Small Business, Big Game.” The winner gets a big-time professional Super Bowl spot for his/her business, created and produced by RPA, along with the almost $4 million payment to run it.
That’s a more screenworthy twist on the idea of “consumer-generated” commercials, which became a sizable Super Bowl ad trend in the early 2000s -- when for the first time, a kid on a Mac could have an editing suite.
These days, only Doritos has continued to make a success of this idea, most recently with "Crash the Super Bowl." (And because by now most of the civilians who enter are would-be filmmakers, this year’s winners will get the chance to work on the set of "Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron.")
Given the ultra-tough climate for small-business owners in this economy, it’s not surprising that some 15,000 entrepreneurial-type peeps entered the Intuit contest over the summer. Out of a huge pool, the final four are now on the Web site.
Before I get to analyzing the brands that made the cut, let’s get into a bit of history. Remember back to those heady pre-bubble days, when start-ups were called “dot-coms”?
Seventeen dot-coms advertised during the Super Bowl of January, 2000. (The bust was just a few months away.) Many had wagered their entire marketing budgets to be there.
The next year, there were three. (More than half of the others were already out of business.)
So here’s something we can feel good about: In this climate, new business owners aren’t operating out of irrational exuberance and sheer, dumb funding. They know what they’re doing.
But because all media hogs want to piggyback off a new attraction, there was already a little kerfuffle with this contest. Apparently, NORML, a nonprofit advocate for marijuana, submitted a video and got eliminated after the second round. The org is crying foul because they claim they had to have gotten more popular votes than any of the entries. As the blog “Marijuana” put it, “It’s flat-out inconceivable to think that a national organization with 500,000+ Facebook fans and with the support of both Weedmaps and Reddit's vast marijuana communities couldn’t surpass a bunch of mom and pop shops in a user-voted contest.”
In its rejection of weed, Intuit might have pissed off many stoners. But the company sure went for Poop. Yes, Poop is the name of the company that makes compost for lawns and gardens from the manure of Holstein dairy cows.
Maybe it’s the “South Park” influence on the culture, but we seem to be poo-crazy lately. In fact, the slogan on the video was “Poop your plants!” (“Ship my pants!” anyone?) It makes the word “scatological” seem like it came out of ancient Babylonia.
I found it fascinating that all four companies reflect the new, locally sourced, artisanal “maker” trend in the economy and the culture. The second contender is “Locally Laid,” a Minnesota company. As a sort of anti-Perdue, the husband and wife team sell pasture-raised eggs from their hens, who forage and exercise on green fields. The company was built around the idea that hens who get exposure to the outdoors will lay a better-tasting egg. Thus the cutesy double entendre in the company's slogan: “Get locally laid.”
Yet another example is Barley Labs, another husband and wife team who make dog treats out of the barley that's left over from, yes, their home beer-brewing. (Dog parents, homemade beer -- how many hipster trends can one company combine?)
By comparison with all these less-than-a-year-old, back–to-the-land types, the fourth finalist, GoldieBlox, is a more established company, dedicated to making real, non-pink toys to encourage girls to become engineers.
Last year, the start-up raised enough money from a Kickstarter campaign to produce an engagingly crafted two-minute spot for You Tube. (Eight million hits and counting.) The trouble came when it was discovered that the company used the music of a Beastie Boys song without getting the band’s permission. The music was pulled from the spot.
So there you have it. What at first seemed to be a tired idea shows the sheer fertility of the American mind, and the flowering of hundreds of concepts from some young business owners who are truly New American Pioneers. Intuit will certainly benefit from all the pre-game publicity, and if it hasn’t angered too many entrants, will also have attracted new customers.
What remains to be seen on Game Day: Will the Poop hit the fans? And if so, will it get lost in all of the other manure?