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<i>American Inventor</i>: Episode 10 The four finalists woo America with 30-second TV commercials.

By Laura Tiffany

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Second-to-the-last episode! In this "$1 million finale," we were re-introduced to each of the four finalists; shown a visit to their home by their mentor judge; and also shown a 30-second commercial they produced for the product. Then, at the end, the phone lines opened for voting to the American public. The final winner will be announced on Thursday, May 18.

(Note: There was an episode on before this one that recapped the $50,000, four-week process that whittled down the finalists from 12 to four.)

Erik, Catch Vest
The first inventor highlighted was Erik, whose "Receiver's Training Pole" morphed into the "Catch Vest." I swear I do not remember this product name change from previous episodes. Ad expert Ed Evangelista is his mentor and believes Erik "truly has an original invention" (unlike the other finalists whose inventions are better-mousetrap versions of other products). Ed visited Erik at home, met his family and offered advice to get Erik through the final hurdle: creating a commercial.

Each inventor met with ad firm DDB Worldwide, which presented them with two concepts. After choosing one, the inventor then went to Plum Productions, the company that actually created the commercial.

Erik chose the idea of having a football player who can't catch well change out his normal hand for a bionic, super-catching hand--a hand that was made possible by the Catch Vest. He asks the production company to move the action to a football field. When casting, they discover most actors don't look like football players. They recruited a local junior-college team instead--but the football players can't really act. It made for a stressful shooting day.

Frankly, the commercial was a bit amateur and confusing--was it advertising a crazy hand or the vest? And what does the vest actually do? Marketing expert Mary Lou Quinlin commented that Erik's invention was a lot better than the commercial. Entrepreneur Peter Jones said Erik lost the message in the commercial but hoped America could forget the commercial when voting. Ed reiterated that the invention was still the "purest" on the show.

Francisco, Double Traction Bike
Mentor Mary Lou Quinlin gave a very impassioned speech about Francisco representing the future. Francisco himself recognized that he's the underdog but realized the incredible transformation he's undergone, from a kid with a dream to a true inventor.

At DDB, Francisco chose between two options. The first was a birthday party scene where a kid opens a present with the bike in it, and then opens a second present with a friend inside who can ride the bike with him. The second concept was edgier, showing one kid morphing into two who can then ride the bike together.

Francisco chose the second option and told Plum Productions he wanted the commercial to be dark and moody. But the people at Plum told Francisco they couldn't do it at night because of budgetary concerns, which should've been a warning to Francisco about the troubles they'd have on the shoot: Too much light. Cops threatening to shut them down.

The commercial came out fine, though a tad too edgy (the bike could've been shown more). In a darkened alley, a kid finds a normal bike. Through CGI, it morphs into the Double Traction Bike. Then the kid morphs into two and away they ride. It felt very appropriate for Francisco's target audience.

Inventor Doug Hall wished there was more in the commercial about the bike, and Ed would've liked the kids to morph first, then the bike--creating a need for the bike first. Peter loved the commercial, and Mary Lou wrapped it up with another big speech about Francisco being a representative of the future.

Ed, Word Ace
Peter Jones said that Ed's invention "has the potential to be in every American home." When visiting Ed and his family, he gave Ed advice on the commercial, saying that the invention started in the classroom and should be brought back there.

DDB again offered two commercial options: A teen is standing at his locker, and you see he has huge hair. The camera pulls back, and he actually has a huge brain. Two girls walking down the hallway also have huge brains. Word Ace = huge brain. The second option was better: The camera followed teens around who've had their pattern of speech changed by the Word Ace. For instance, "He's so totally six-letter adjective that ends with 'y.'"

Ed chose version number two. Unfortunately, they lose their first shooting location, and Ed loses it a bit. But they found a better location at a middle school, and the commercial got underway. Ed changed one line at the last minute, and the teen actress had a hard time nailing it after that.

Regardless of the problems, the commercial was perfect. It was so sharp and professional. As the kids speak in their new "six letter" fashion, the letters also popped up hangman-style on the screen. Ed said the commercial will get viewers to participate, trying to figure out the words. Mary Lou noted that Ed hit all the right notes: benefit, target, the emotional side and the sale. Doug said he often gave Ed a hard time about his invention, but he loves the commercial. And Peter said that it wasn't just good, it was excellent.

Janusz, Anecia Survival Capsule
Doug said it had "been an honor" to mentor Janusz. When visiting Janusz's home, Doug told Janusz's wife that he was the smartest of all the inventors. Then he gave Janusz three questions to answer in his commercial: "Why should I [the viewer] care? What's in it for me? And why should I believe you?"

Janusz didn't like either of the DDB choices--one showed a woman dropping her lipstick and rooting around on a car floor for it while driving, with a tagline referencing the dangerous people you're on the road with. The second showed a pregnant belly and a fetus, imparting the message that the Anecia Survival Capsule is like a womb.

Janusz wanted a bigger impact--a crash and a happy baby. And it's easy to understand why he'd want his commercial to be more visceral. After all, it's dealing with life and death. He ditched DDB and took his idea to Plum, which came up with another option. They held baby auditions (choosing a baby with amazingly punk hair). Then the night shoot got underway, but with lots of problems. Despite weather issues and a crying baby, however, the commercial still worked: the remnants of a wreck, firefighters prying open the door, and a happy baby still inside its Anecia Capsule.

Mary Lou said the commercial "tapped into every mother's heart and fear" and gave those mothers a solution. Ed said the same thing my boyfriend did: He wanted to see the capsule actually in motion. Doug said: "You captured the moment and delivered the benefit."

Voting Begins!
After the four commercials were aired, each inventor gave a short speech to tell American why we should vote for them.

And yes, I voted! And no, I'm not going to say who I voted for. But I'll offer my predictions of who will get the most votes. I think Erik will, unfortunately, lose. His product is very nichey, and the commercial didn't deliver. Next will be Francisco. Again, I think he has the same issues, though to a lesser degree. First runner-up? My favorite, Janusz. There's still the question of how much effort it will take to get the Anecia to market, and some people may still consider the seat too large. And there'll be a big hurdle to get over convincing people that conventional baby seats aren't as good.

Finally, I think the Anecia won't win simply because Ed nailed his Word Ace commercial so well. This product has appeal to all audiences: parents, kids and people who just like games. But it's up to America to decide, and we'll all find out who wins on May 18. Be sure to tune in.

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