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It’s Game On for Three Small Businesses Competing for Super Bowl Ad

Most small business owners can only dream what a 30-second Super Bowl commercial could do for their bottom lines, but one lucky entrepreneur will get to find out on Feb. 7.

The field is down to three in the Small Business Big Game contest, sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks, which will award a free 30-second spot during the National Football League's championship. The ad will be worth approximately $5 million, CBS CEO Les Moonves estimated on an earnings call in August.

Still standing among the roughly 15,000 businesses that entered the contest last spring are:

  • Vidler's 5 & 10, a variety store in East Aurora, New York;
  • Chubbies Shorts, a men's short shorts company in San Francisco;
  • Death Wish Coffee Co., maker of potent java in Round Lake, New York.
Photo: Owners of three-small business finalists in Intuit's Small Business Big Game contest for a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement.
From left to right, Mike Brown of the Death Wish Coffee Co., Don Vidler of Vidler's 5&10, Tom Montgomery of Chubbies and Small Business Big Game spokesman Bill Rancic.

The winner of the Super Bowl ad will be announced in early January.

The three finalist companies couldn't be more different in terms of their specialties, but a common thread was visible at a press junket this week: Each is a little bit zany and one of a kind.

Image: Chubbies Shorts
Chubbies Shorts in San Francisco. smallbusinessbiggame.com

Chubbies was founded in 2011, when co-founder Tom Montgomery and his Stanford classmates sought to build a brand that would both "counteract the stress of the recession and define the weekend." Initially the business sold one item -- American-flag patterned shorts, which remain one of its best-sellers — out of backpacks. Now with nearly 2 million fans on Facebook, the company is a household name in frat houses around the country.

Mike Brown founded Death Wish Coffee in 2009 and his mission hasn't changed since then: creating "the strongest coffee in the world." Just one sip will prove that he doesn't take his work — or his caffeine — lightly. The brand exists mostly online, but Brown told NBC that his burly brews are starting to make their way into grocery stores in upstate New York.

Image: Death Wish Coffee Company
Death Wish Coffee Company in Round Lake, New York. smallbusinessbiggame.com

Vidler's 5&10, founded 85 years ago, is naturally the most "old school" of the bunch. It's a bona fide variety store — the kind older generations of Americans remember well - and is one of the largest of its kind left in the country, according to Vice President and co-owner Don Vidler.

While the business has the fewest Facebook fans of the three — at 13,000 — it's got possibly the strongest community support. Vidler told NBC that the business avidly supports other small businesses in the area along with the local Little League team.

Image: Vidler's 5 & 10
Vidler's 5 & 10 in East Aurora, New York. smallbusinessbiggame.com

"Whether we win or not, we're throwing a party for our customers," Vidler said.

Intuit whittled the 15,000 entrants in the competition down to 10 finalists, asking a panel of judges to rate the businesses on factors such as passion, authenticity and emotional connection with the public. That process "came down to their stories of grit and sacrifice," according to Bill Rancic, the reality TV star and entrepreneur and spokesman for Small Business Big Game.

The cut to the final three came from a popular vote that ended Nov. 3.

The remaining business owners quickly turned their focus to fashioning of online content — creating web videos and using social media with the hashtag #SmallTeamBiz to drum up buzz among their customers and fans.

Contestants are hopeful that should their business win, they'll follow in the steps of the first Small Business Big Game winner, GoldieBlox. The girls' construction toy startup saw business soar after its ad ran in the 2014 game, and its products can now be found in mammoth retail chains such as Target and Toys R Us.

But the so-called losers still come up winners, as they get to take home $25,000 and get a local media spot valued at up to$15,000. What's more, Vidler's, Chubbies, and Death Wish Coffee all report a spike in revenue since the campaign started.