Michael Squitieri doesn't have to worry about a future as a starving artist. The acting major now has 715 free burritos-and 15 minutes of fame-to his name that should last him through any belt-tightening times of necessity, after winning Moe's Southwest Grill's Video Nation contest.
Squitieri, along with hometown friends Kevin Schwoer, Michael Goldstein and Steve Schurtz, made a video portraying themselves as rappers telling the world about their constant cravings for Moe's burrito's while getting a tan, looking for keys and playing on a seesaw.
The Galloway, NJ rap group, going by the name "Notorious M.O.E. and Nacho Daddy," received about 11,000 views on Moe's Web site before it was named the winner, according to a company press release. The group won 2,860 Moe's vouchers for free burritos, split four ways among the group, totaling a retail value of about $17,000.
"It would have been cool to get the money, but I guess burritos are funnier," the junior said.
Moe's Southwest Grill is an Atlanta-based company specializing in Mexican foods like burritos and tacos, many of which have referential names like the Art Vandalay and the Joey Bag of Donuts. There are currently about 345 operating restaurants in 36 mostly southeastern states.
Moe's began its Burrito in Every Hand campaign in 2006, encouraging customers to create a short video about the restaurant, that would be posted on its Web site. Videos were required to include the company's signature "Welcome to Moe's!" greeting, along with the sound of ingredients sizzling on the grill.
Moe's had been searching for a way to have a fun marketing campaign that would draw notice to the eatery as a stand-out brand, said Dawn Laws, the company's marketing director. The Video Nation contest was designed to take advantage of the popularity of online videos and media.
Laws said the "Notorious M.O.E" video stood out from among the 40 other entries because of its creativity and the way it directly involved a Moe's restaurant. The company also like the way it stayed true to the Burrito in Every Hand campaign: the performers were actually holding burritos in their hands during most of the video.
Squitieri said he learned about the video contest when he randomly visited the company's Web site last December. After reading about it, he instantly knew that he had to make an entry, and knew exactly what it should be.
"I called [Schwoer] and said we're going to make a rap video and we're going to win," he said.
The video was not the group's first venture into semi-serious hip hop; they had worked together on a rap for a high school skit. Squitieri wrote the script before going home for winter break. Rushing to meet the Dec. 30 deadline, they filmed in one day at a Moe's in May's Landing, N.J., leaving Schwoer a few days to edit and put original music to the video.
Laws said the company's representatives were amused by the video, and valued its professionalism.
"Older franchisers in their thirties and forties saw it and were like, 'It's so MTV,'" she said.
Since filming, the "Notorious M.O.E. and Nacho Daddy" crew have become temporary celebrities. In June, Moe's flew the group to Florida for a company convention, where they performed an extended version of their rap on stage. The video was also featured on The Today Show and name-checked in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Currently, the group is working on a radio commercial.
Squitieri said that he did not expect so much to come out of making the video, but his memories are priceless.
"Seeing Meredith Vieira dancing to it [on The Today Show] was pretty funny," he said.