BROWNSBURG — Four years ago, Joe and Dave Herbert were just a couple of guys from Batesville working regular jobs and living regular lives with a hobby for film making.
One Doritos Super Bowl contest later, they were $1 million richer with a new career on their hands.
It’s that new career that brought them to Brownsburg last week to film a Dixie Chopper commercial with local actors.
“Dixie Chopper is based in Indy and a lot of our crew is from Indy, and we did scout locations and thought this was a good localized area,” Joe said. “I asked Papaw (Steve Pyatte), who’s from here, if he rides a motorcycle or knew anyone that does because he has a big mustache so I figured he did, and it turns out he does. So we thought it’d be easier to come to the motorcycles than have the motorcycles come to us.”
That took them to Pyatte’s sister’s house in the Thornwood subdivision near the end of the B&O Trail here. The group shot four commercials over a two-day span set to air nationally in local Dixie Chopper markets. The commercials can also be found on their website.
But the path that brought the Herbert brothers to Brownsburg for this commercial is anything but conventional.
“My brother Dave and I decided out of the blue that we wanted to get into film making,” said Joe, who has four other siblings. “We didn’t take it in college or anything. I was a web designer and Dave has an economics degree. We were looking to do something different and be creative. Well, when we get into something we really get into it all the way. When we decided to take this up, we spent a year researching film making before even picking up a camera to test it. We read every book and spent a year talking to people, figuring out everything we wanted to know. Then we did a short film and we thought it was really good, and maybe we could make a career of this instead of it just being a hobby.”
It was the 2007 Super Bowl when the brothers got their big break. Doritos had a commercial creating contest where the winning entry would air at the Super Bowl. A committee would cull more than 1,000 entries down to 16, then to eight, then to five before it was put to a public vote to determine the winner. The Herbert brothers had two entries in the top eight, one in the top five, but did not win. They did learn the process, however, which would later benefit them greatly.
“It was us from Batesville — a town of 6,000 — versus teams from Chicago and L.A.,” Joe said. “The smallest town we were up against had 300,000 people, so we got blown out of the sky.”
In 2009, Doritos upped the ante, announcing that whoever won the Super Bowl commercial contest would take home $1 million.
“We did a lot of research on the Ad Meter, how it works, and put a website together showing the top five ranked commercials from the previous 10 years and knew we needed to be near that similar level,” Joe explained. “I counted the number of cuts each that had been number one had, calculated how far into the commercial the funny parts were, and learned how the Ad Meter works.”
The Ad Meter is a USA Today-run focus group of more than 300 people that rate commercials. At the time, they used a dial that would be turned to signify whether they liked the commercial or disliked it. The highest score during the time of the commercial would be the final score for that group.
“Another thing our research showed us in the previous 10 years before us in the top five, not a single commercial that had dealt with hot chicks or sex appeal had won,” Joe said. “We knew our idea was not going to be based on that type of thing, like a lot of people do in contests. The winning commercials were mostly about idiots, something bad happening, or animals did well but we didn’t want to work with animals, so we were left with goofball idiots, which is sort of our specialty.”
There were 4,000 entries that year, and after being placed in the top five again, the Herbert brothers made their way to the Super Bowl to show off their commercial for a host of Pepsi and Doritos executives after an aggressive marketing campaign where they focused on finding groups who would vote for them every day, rather than just appealing to the one viewer, one voter mantra.
“I voted 10 times a day from my 10 different e-mail addresses,” Pyatte joked.
Joe explained, “The day before the Super Bowl, they had about 300 people in a room to watch the Pepsi, Gatorade, and Doritos commercials that would run. They did Pepsi first and there were maybe a few chuckles. Then they did Gatorade. Then they did Doritos last. When they got to ours, we almost got a standing ovation. The other Doritos commercials had people laughing, but when they got to ours they were falling out of their chairs they were laughing so hard. Even one of the other finalists leaned over and said ‘well, I guess you’re going to win.’ By that time the voting was already done, but we did feel good about our chances after that.
“At half-time of the Super Bowl, they get a call from USA Today wanting to interview us, and we knew they wouldn’t want to if we weren’t winning. That’s when we realized we had a damn good shot at winning this. We knew no second half commercial had ever won. By the third and fourth quarter we hear Pepsi executives whispering and talking to one another saying ‘those guys over there are millionaires.’ After the game, it’s unofficial, but they put up the scores online and we won by four one-hundredths of a point. We were the first to beat Budweiser in a decade.”
But Joe insists that not much has really changed since their hard work paid off in spades.
“Life’s not changed a ton,” he said. “Opportunities have changed. Dave and I are not materialistic and everyone always asks about the money, but taxes take a huge chunk of it and we had about 30 people working on the commercial, so we gave them huge bonuses. So we didn’t have life changing money. We mostly paid off our bills and credit cards, but it did open up more doors for us and we got calls from other companies and ad agencies. I left my job and do this full time now, but Dave and I still live in our same houses.”
It’s not yet known exactly when the commercial shot in Brownsburg will be run locally.
For more information on the Herbert brothers, visit the website at herbertbrothers.com.