A British advertising team appears to have far-reaching goals for increasing recognition of Doritos snack chips. They held a public competition for video ads. The winner got his 45-second entry beamed out over a six-hour period today toward a solar system that is 42 light years away. The target has planets, so presumably extra-terrestrials might come to appreciate those cheesy, zesty tortilla chips that serve as a guilty pleasure for so many earthly denizens.

Is this for real? Apparently. A press release from the University of Leicester, England, describing the project was relayed to someone here by a contact at the American Astronomical Society.

I’ve checked out the winning entry — Tribe, by Matt Bowron (the actor) and John Addis — on a Doritos website that hosts the leading contenders. It’s cute. A guy comes home and drops a bag of chips and jar of “hot” salsa on his coffee table. He momentarily leaves the room, at which point chips pop open the bag and emerge to dance around and repeatedly bow to the jar. Suddenly, its lid flies off. A lone chip then sacrifices itself to the god of salsa by diving from the bag directly into the dip. But then the snack foods hear the young guy returning. At once, the chips sail back to their bag, the salsa lid flies back on, and all looks normal. Until the guy opens the salsa jar to mysteriously encounter the sacrificial Dorito inside.

Earth-bound viewers can watch the ad online as I did. Couch potatoes in England can catch it this Sunday at 7:44 p.m., local time, as a commercial wedged between segments of the “Euro 2008 Group B game.” That’s a soccer match, for us Yanks.

One might wonder if somebody’s going to beam a communiqué into space, why hawk a junk food? It’s a question I’m planning to ask if and when I reach the Brits responsible. Hopefully, it will be tomorrow morning (I learned about this project too late in the day to catch anyone in their offices, across the pond).

Of course, I did phone the North American Frito-Lay corporate affairs people more than an hour ago. But so far, I’m still waiting for a call-back.

The woman who took my query sounded like she thought I was pulling her leg. I merely explained that I wanted more details on today’s transmission of a Doritos ad into deep space.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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