Super Bowl XLV was a life-changing event for J.R. Burningham and Tess Ortbals – and it had nothing to do with football itself. The newly engaged couple are the creators of “Pug Attack,” the 2011 Super Bowl commercial that won the Doritos commercial contest.
In the space of a week, they’ve decided to get married, won $1 million and a contract to make another commercial later in the year and got a chance to complete a feature film they’ve been working on for a few years.
“The best possible scenario just happened,” Burningham, 31, said this week about the winning 2011 Super Bowl commercial.
He and Ortbals, 32, met while students in the film school at the University of Southern California. They went on to form Mythmakers Entertainment, a production company, as partners in “love and life,” and have been working on feature films.
Last year, they decided to enter the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, the fifth annual competition sponsored by PepsiCo that allows amateurs and up-and-coming filmmakers to create Super Bowl commercials for Doritos and Pepsi products.
The two spent about $500 on a rented camera and a few other incidentals and got help from family and friends to make the commercial over a two-week period in and around their home in Ventura County, California. Two actors played the couple in the Super Bowl commercial, while a friend’s pug, Oko Nono, got the starring role.
Their entry into the Doritos commercial contest almost immediately became a hit, thanks in part to a viral marketing campaign by the web-savvy couple, picking up tens of thousands of YouTube views in just a couple of weeks.
“Pug Attack” was selected as one of five finalists in the Doritos commercial contest and was posted on the “Crash the Super Bowl” site, where online voters were able to select their favorites. The contest guaranteed that the top two vote-getters would make an appearance during the airing of the 2011 Super Bowl commercials.
In the week leading up to Super Bowl 2011, Burningham decided to make his proposal to Ortbals. He said he wanted them to be able to enjoy the moment, regardless of whether they won the Doritos commercial contest or not. She said, “Yes.”
The 10 finalists – five for Doritos and five for Pepsi Max – were awarded $25,000 each and given a trip to the game in Dallas. They were kept in suspense until the Super Bowl ads actually began to air.
“Pug Attack” showed during the first few minutes of Super Bowl XLV, with Burningham and his fiancée watching from the stadium.
“The moment we saw the first frame of ours play, we erupted in cheers,” he said.
But that wasn’t the end of it. As part of the contest, PepsiCo also had promised big bonuses to the makers of any commercial that scored in the top three of the USA Today Ad Meter, in which a specially selected panel watched and voted on 2011 Super Bowl commercials in real time.
Burningham said Doritos executives quietly pulled him aside during the third quarter and told him that “Pug Attack” was tied at that point with “Dog Sitter,” a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial also featuring dogs.
“I was in shock,” he said. “It was a heart-stopping moment.”
He decided to wait to tell Ortbals until it was confirmed, something Doritos executives did after the game on the bus leaving the stadium.
“It was a great moment,” Burningham said. “I’ll never forget that.”
The answer to the obvious question – what to do with all that money – came easy to him.
He and Ortbals will spend part of it on their wedding, to be held in late summer or early fall outdoors among the redwoods of Northern California, and also plan to give bonuses to the people who helped them make their winning 2011 Super Bowl commercial.
And the rest?
For the last few years, he and his fiancée have been working on a film they wrote called, “A Touch of Magic.” The feature is about a little girl who’s father is away at war. She wants to help him with magic and sets out to find a magician to teach her. When she encounters a scoundrel, instead, she ends up changing his life.
It’s been tough to get investors to see the film made, Burningham said, so the couple will put part of the winnings into the movie. That will help them move it along and hopefully encourage other investors to jump in, he said.
Meanwhile, they have a contract to do another PepsiCo commercial later this year, and “we would love to do more commercials” Burningham said. “I think (“Pug Attack”) shows that we are talented and know how to make them.”