By Claire Harlin
Stacy and John Snyder love their mastiff mix, Charger, and when they were watching the homemade Doritos commercial contest submissions last year during the Super Bowl, they had no doubt in their minds that their Helen Woodward adoptee would be the next big TV star.
“We were thinking, this dog, she just love to do tricks, so why don’t we submit her?” said Stacy, who has lived with John in Rancho Santa Fe for 28 years.
The Snyders called together a little team to produce the 30-second Doritos commercial, which they entered into the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest last month. They brought together Rob Kuty, who works with Helen Woodward under his company, San Diego Pet Training, and previously trained Charger as a puppy transitioning from the shelter to the Snyders’ home. And finding their videographer was somewhat serendipitous — after months of searching, the Snyders discovered on a five-day trip to the Grand Canyon that a family friend who was there, Kevin Miller, is both a video editor and Rancho Santa Fe resident. Since there’s $1 million on the table for the winner of the contest, the Snyders made a deal with Kuty and Miller — split it three ways if they win.
So far, the commercial, called “Crossword Charlie,” has been well-received. It’s gotten more than 1,000 views on Facebook and it’s among videos with the highest ratings given by the company. But the biggest key to their success is getting the most votes from the public, and the commercials will be up for voting on the contest’s Facebook page during the month of January, as well as through Xbox Live. Each person gets one vote per day per platform, states the contest rules.
“Everybody who’s seen it, even people we don’t know, say they love it,” said John, adding that the contest started off as amateurs-only but some contestants ended up submitting major productions, which would have cost much more to make than theirs, which was shot with an iPhone and had no overhead — save for a dozen or more bags of Doritos.
“Ours is all homegrown, and we’re all from right here in the same community,” Stacy said.
The Snyders spent several months on the commercial, which stars Charger opening doors, wearing glasses and helping John solve the crossword clue, “world’s tastiest potato chip.” After jumping onto the kitchen counter, sticking her nose in a Doritos bag, and bringing her owner chip after chip, John figures it out. For the purposes of the commercial only, the Snyders changed their dog’s name to Charlie, as contest rules dictate the commercials must not have any team or brand affiliations.
Kuty said working with Charger to perfect her tricks wasn’t hard because she’s been learning tricks from an early age. She already knew how to open doors, but Kuty taught her how to shut them, and also how to easily jump onto chairs and stand at attention.
“The hardest trick was getting her to put her paws on the counter and take a Dorito out of the bag without eating it,” he said.
Miller pieced together trick after trick, and even chose shots in which Charger gives the most appropriate and funny expressions.
“The facial expressions were hard,” said Stacy, but she added that they are also one of the most memorable elements of the commercial. “We’d have a squeaky toy and get her attention, and capture her face right when she tilts her head.”
Kuty began his 13-years of training animals at SeaWorld, so he said he loves any opportunity to do theatre work that comes his way.
“When they called me, I jumped on it,” he said.
Stacy, a former special education teacher who has been volunteering for years for a variety of organizations, said her main motivator to win is getting to donate the money to a cause she is already involved in — either Helen Woodward, TERI, cancer research or the San Pasqual Academy.
“I thought, ‘Gosh, if we could win this money, wouldn’t it be great to give a significant amount of it to things we’ve already been contributing?’” said Stacy. “Then, we could really make a difference.”
Stacy is involved in Kids Korps USA and has experience starting up a plant nursery for TERI, a school that serves those with autism and other developmental disabilities.
“Now that we’re empty-nesters, we’re not only thinking of things we’d normally be too busy to do, but we realize that all the focus gets put on your dog, this companion there always greeting you, and pleasing you and never talking back,” Stacy said.
John added that they’ve had so much fun making the commercial, that even if they don’t win, he wants to do it again next year — and some ideas are already brewing.
“Charger had so much fun too,” he said. “She got so much better with repetition, and she loved being part of the team and getting rewarded.”
Stacy added, “It really gives her a purpose.”
For more information or to vote in the Crash the Super Bowl contest after Jan. 2, visit www.facebook.com/doritosUSA. You can search “Crossword Charlie” to find the Snyder’s video, which has the headline, “Duh?ritos.”