The Super Bowl is all about competition between the NFL’s elite teams, and those who advertise for this most-watched sporting event are among today’s elite advertisers. Though it's a Sunday, game day and practically a national holiday, a business or marketing professional cannot help but notice the amplified quality of the Doritos Super Bowl commercials and think about how they were produced. It's no small feat to devise an ad that is so entertaining it goes viral online and yet so focused on the brand that it achieves the true mission—to get millions of people to think positively about Doritos. Can a Doritos commercial teach us about effective leadership? Let's see.
The idea of using a bouncing chair for toddlers as a slingshot to enable your grandchild to steal from another grandchild who is taunting you is absurd, and precisely the direction Doritos followed without any disclaimers you normally see on reality television. Now let's step back a few months, and think about the day this idea first appeared on the drawing board. Everyone knows that most Super Bowl ads are flashy with a dash of insanity. But where does a person draw the line? And how does one motivate a team to think well outside the box without losing control? The key is to give the team members true freedom in their expression of ideas during the initial phase of a project. By doing so, you demonstrate basic respect, and you leave the door open to a winning moment that may occur from an unexpected direction.
In order for that truly creative or downright wacky idea to surface, the team needs to know that they can brainstorm with freedom. After that point, a good leader creates focus within a team by setting clear goals and parameters. For a Super Bowl ad, those parameters include highly visual elements, strong use of sound and an unforgettable tie to the brand. Every project will have different parameters. Once you introduce these in a clear way, your team has the fuel that it needs to move forward with an idea. The parameters create accountability while continuing to allow the employees to work on the project with some freedom. An excellent leader knows how to steer the course without playing an excessive role.
Let's think about another Doritos commercial. In this one, a man and a dog notice each other while “working” in the yard. When the man notices what the dog is doing, the dog attempts to bribe the man for his silence about what he saw. Actually, as counterintuitive as it sounds, there is a good idea here. Many businesses use point systems to reward employees for excellent work. Reward systems are effective because they give people reasons to perform, beyond the usual paycheck. The leader can stop devising motivational talks and start thinking of realistic systems that will inspire the employees. If done well, a rewards system can make leadership easier.
Perhaps the best aspect of the Doritos commercials lies in simplicity. The presentation of each ad is simple—usually one location, one or two people, a bizarre, eye-catching moment and, finally, a big Dorito crunch. An effective leader also keeps the workplace running with simplicity. Roles are straightforward and clear. Expectations are broad, few and direct. The leader presents a consistent personality such that employees can see the logic in the leader's decisions.
Watching the Super Bowl means watching football legends—there's not a moment to miss. It's not only first-class football, it gives us a yearly chance to sit back and soak in the achievements of everyone we see on the screen. As a business or marketing professional, we can let the commercials, not to mention the coaches, provide tips on how to lead with freedom, focus, reward and simplicity.