GoldieBlox--the startup that set out to disrupt the toy store's "pink aisle" with its line of engineering toys for girls--will get a 30-second spot during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday. 

The question I am sure many people are asking is: How did a 15-person toy startup manage to foot the bill for a coveted commerical spot in the most televised event of the year? Well, it didn't. GoldieBlox beat out more than 15,000 other small businesses in Intuit's Small Business, Big Game campaign

"We recognize that small businesses are really the unsung heroes of our economy and our country. We wanted to give them a voice and put them on a world stage in a way that had never been done before," said Heather McLellan, Intuit's director of communications. 

For Debbie Sterling, the CEO and founder of Oakland, California-based GoldieBlox, such an opportunity seemed incredibly unlikely just a few months ago. Before Intuit announced the contest, the Stanford graduate and her team had talked about how if only they had the means, a Super Bowl commercial would be the best way to bring their girl-empowerment message to the masses. 

"It was just a joke around the office," says Sterling.

But in July, Intuit kicked off the Small Business, Big Game campaign, first by asking owners of companies with fewer than 50 employees to share what it was that made their business special in a 600-word essay.

After the initial ask, Intuit requested more information about the companies that applied and then further narrowed the field based on how the companies were able to promote their businesses with their audience on social networks.

By late October, the field was winnowed down to 20 companies, at which point Intuit employees were asked to vote on which small businesses they thought should make the final four. The Locally Laid Egg Company, POOP (yes, POOP), and Barley Labs joined GoldieBlox in the finals, and voting was opened to the public. Hundreds of thousands of people voted, judging the companies based on videos each of the individual companies submitted. 

"We have a very small budget," said Theresa Chu, co-founder of dog-biscuit maker Barley Labs. "We have been more concerned about making sure that the product is right and have been trying to grow locally in a very small way. To have the kind of exposure on a national scale, we would have never been to do that without the contest."

Prior to the Small Business, Big Game Campaign, the finalist with the greatest notoriety was probably GoldieBlox, which gained some recognition when it completed a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and a promotional video from the company went viral. The video incited a legal battle with the Beastie Boys over GoldieBlox's use of the song "Girls" in the video. Fortunately, even the three companies that don’t win the spot will get regional and national commercials paid for by Intuit. All the commercials will be produced by RPA, a Los Angeles-based ad agency. 

"I think the biggest thing is that it's really brought an incredible amount of exposure to our little company, and we have received a lot of earned media attention, which has in turn resulted in opportunities for business," said Jason Amundsen, the founder of Minnesota-based Locally Laid Egg Company. 

Indeed, since the start of the contest, all four finalists have seen their companies expand. POOP and Barley Labs extended their businesses across state lines, both upping their number of retailers; Locally Laid Eggs earned a few new partnerships; and GoldieBlox toys will now be sold at Toys R Us and Target--showing exactly how you can take advantage of a bit of publicity. 

"Entering the competition gave us an excuse to reach out to our fans and kind of give them a way to support us," said Sterling. "Our fans started voting for us every single day and asked their friends to vote for us. We saw a huge increase in our fan base and community and all these people supporting the idea that GoldieBlox should have an ad in the big game."

All the finalists noted that the contest gave them an opportunity to build a community around their business. Barley Labs received countless photos from dog lovers across the country, and POOP saw people rally around the company's, uh, unique name. 

"Obviously, the name stands out, and so we try to have as much fun as we possibly can," said Ben Bieri, one of the founders of the natural dairy compost company. "We are trying to build POOP into a business where we can all quit our day jobs and turn this into full-time work. We have had a great time doing it."

Intuit said it will hold a similar contest next year, though it has not released details.

How GoldieBlox Won a Super Bowl Ad

Published on: Jan 31, 2014