The Super Bowl is the biggest TV event of the year, and advertisers have paid up to $4 million for spots during the game, but that's not all. Many companies have been hard at work online trying to build buzz for those super spots, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The men's brand Axe even promises to turn you into an astronaut.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Join now at for your chance to go to space.

BLAIR: Coca-Cola's ad is a race across the desert, and people can vote for how it should end.


BLAIR: Lincoln ran a contest for the best tweets.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We let you steer the script of the next Lincoln commercial.

BLAIR: Advertisers are counting on these pregame digital efforts to give their TV commercials, come game day, a boost. Doritos runs a contest called Crash the Super Bowl where people submit their own commercials. Out of some 3,000 entries this year, Doritos selected five finalists. Online, people can vote for their favorites, and they're pretty impressive. This one is called "Fashionista Daddy."


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Daddy, can you play princess fashion show with me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Sweetheart, I'd love to, but the guys, they're outside waiting for me.


BLAIR: Two of these ads will air during the Super Bowl. Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer for Frito-Lay which owns Doritos, says the benefits are huge for the winning filmmakers.

ANN MUKHERJEE: Whichever one does better will be the one that will work with Michael Bay on his next "Transformers" movie. And if any one of them wins number one on the ad meter, they get a million bucks.

BLAIR: Mukherjee says the most any of these finalists spent to produce their ads was just $5,000, but Mukherjee says Frito-Lay is still spending plenty of money running and promoting the contest. And Doritos is getting plenty of coverage, partly driven by the filmmakers who are naturally eager to spread the word themselves.

MUKHERJEE: Your consumers actually become your billboards. They're the ones who become the ambassadors that really talk about the integrity and the authenticity of a brand.

BLAIR: Integrity. Authenticity. Doritos. That's hard to say in the same breath. But the contest has more than 4 million likes on Facebook.

CHRIS HEINE: Like the Pepsis of the world, the Doritos of the world, they want as much social media splash as they can get from these ads.

BLAIR: Chris Heine, a reporter for Adweek, says when brands like Doritos, Coke and Lincoln run these contests, it gives them something cool to talk about other than, say, chips.

HEINE: They release a press release, and then a lot of the trade press - it's kind of a release-the-hounds situation. Everyone reports about it.

BLAIR: Present company included. The ad agency that did those popular Darth Vader commercials is back with a new campaign for Volkswagen. Deutsch LA's Mark Hunter says the Super Bowl is a lot of pressure.

MARK HUNTER: You know, it really is the sort of one big glory moment that's left for advertising, so we do think of it as very, very important and put a lot of time and energy into making those ads.

BLAIR: This time, Deutsch LA released a teaser that strings together YouTube videos of people having meltdowns.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm sorry. I'm thinking about cats again.

BLAIR: The agency tracked down those people, flew them to California and took them to a hillside where reggae star Jimmy Cliff gets them happy.


JIMMY CLIFF: (Singing) Oh, come on, come on, get happy. Come on, come on, yeah.

BLAIR: But some people are angry about the Volkswagen commercial that will actually air during the Super Bowl. It has a happy white guy speaking with a Jamaican accent.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Julia, turn the frown the other way around.

BLAIR: A New York Times columnist, for example, told CNN it was like blackface with voices. Then a Jamaican government official came out and said he likes it. All this pregame back and forth is exactly what a brand wants. This way, maybe those millions of people watching the Super Bowl will be on the lookout for their ad. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Hello, world, hear the song that we're singing. Come on, get happy.

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