Bringing in the celebrity big guns for Super Bowl LIV ads
Feb. 3, 2020 - Leila Ugincius
When something is declared the “best thing since sliced bread,” where does that leave the bread?
That’s the premise behind Little Caesars’ first Super Bowl ad, which aired last night. The spot features Rainn Wilson as an executive at Sliced Bread Headquarters who is distraught over Little Caesars’ new delivery service being compared to his product.
“Sliced bread is toast,” exclaims a newscaster to Wilson’s chagrin.
While the creatives at McKinney Durham deserve the credit for developing and creating the ad, it wouldn’t have been possible if Little Caesars hadn’t been all in, said Will Dean, the ad’s co-creative director with Lyle Yetman, with whom he often partnered as Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter classmates.
“Our clients at Little Caesars were some of the smartest and best people to work with because they take risks,” Dean said. “We're just really proud to have them as a client. They enable us to do our best work because we're aligned with them really well.”
If people think the ad is good, Dean said, it’s because the ad started with a good idea and was executed with good craft — fundamentals that he learned at the Brandcenter.
“And I think that those principles have served me well,” he said. “Those [professors] taught us the importance of that: having a good idea — simple, clear — and then make it as good as you possibly can when you produce it.
“I had very good relationships with all of my teachers. I learned a lot from them and I felt like I was really, really well-prepared to come out and do what I'm doing now.”
Shannon Smith’s goal for Grey NYC’s Pringles ad was for viewers to take away one thing: “You can stack different Pringles to make new flavor combinations.”
The ad nails it — with the help of cosmic adventurers Rick and Morty (and Summer). When a bevy of Mortybots — stacking various flavors of chips — suddenly descends on them, Rick and Summer realize they are trapped in a Pringles commercial. (Not at all unusual. In fact, Rick isn’t surprised: “They warned me this would happen, and I didn't listen,” he says.)
“It’s a ‘Rick and Morty’ episode, but also a Pringles commercial,” said Smith, a 2016 Brandcenter grad.
Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network programming block that airs “Rick and Morty,” had done brand collaborations in the past, but Smith, the spot’s art director, and her team didn’t know if the network would even green light the idea as they developed the ad.
“But that didn’t really influence anything because if it worked, it worked,” said Smith, who learned at the Brandcenter to stand by your ideas if you think they’re good even if no one else likes them.
“I have to be careful to never present ‘safe’ ideas, as they are easy bait for the client to buy,” she said. “And then I'd be stuck with that lame idea. I always make sure anything I present I'd be excited to make.
“The reason the Pringles commercial worked is because it remains true to the show. It wasn’t like, ‘We‘re “Rick and Morty” fans, let’s make them sell Pringles.’ It was ‘Pringles wants people to buy three times the amount of Pringles in the name of “flavor stacking?”’ Let’s not take ourselves too seriously.”
People can be good at anything
It all started with a song.
And the first line of the song was “all people are tax people” — not the most amusing or catchiest of lyrics, admits Yahkeema Moffitt, a copywriter at Wieden + Kennedy Portland.
“Through lots of desk rapping, edits and low-fi recordings we landed on something that had a good energy,” Moffitt said. “Bounce music — an energetic and inclusive subgenre of hip hop — was a big inspiration while writing it.”
The song is for TurboTax’s seventh spot — the one that made it to the Super Bowl — in the brand’s “All People Are Tax People” campaign.
“The Super Bowl became an opportunity for TurboTax to express itself in the most TurboTax way,” said Christian Clay, senior strategist. “A genuine belief in people and what they are capable of, but also showing how in a world where we’re increasingly taking note of our differences, the need to do our taxes is — surprisingly — something we all have in common.
“A brand can say something when millions of people are watching without taking itself too seriously.”
The best part about getting to work on a Super Bowl spot is that it gives the work permission to stray a bit from the boundaries of the current campaign, said Juliana Cole, brand executive.
“It gets to play by its own rules in order to catch the eyes and entertain most of America,” she said.
While working on the ad, the trio often felt as if they were back at the Brandcenter, where they had to move fast, stay nimble and fight for what they believed in.
“Finding the story, finding what moves people, and bringing in your personal experience is surprisingly effective at whipping up support for risky work,” Cole said.
“ "I have to be careful to never present ‘safe’ ideas, as they are easy bait for the client to buy. And then I'd be stuck with that lame idea. I always make sure anything I present I'd be excited to make."”
It’s only worth it if you enjoy it
Not only did Melissa Jackson’s first Super Bowl commercial run last night, her second one aired too.
“To say it’s exciting is an understatement – to see not one but two Super Bowl spots I worked on finally air to the whole country feels amazing,” said Jackson, a senior strategic planner at FCB Chicago. “The client and the FCB teams worked so hard on these commercials, and it’s so rewarding and exciting to see them on the big screen.”
Both ads were for Michelob products: Michelob ULTRA and Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, the brand’s USDA Certified Organic beer.
The Pure Gold spot features a simple but strong call to action paired with bold visuals. It highlights the surprising stat that less than 1% of U.S. farmland is organic. Although many farmers want to transition to organic, they face big challenges.
The Michelob ULTRA spot brings to life the idea that it’s only worth it if you enjoy it. The fast-paced spot features Jimmy Fallon who, like many people, has said he hates working out.
Throughout the commercial, John Cena helps Jimmy learn to have fun while exercising. When they drink ice cold Michelob ULTRAs at the bar post-workout, it emphasizes the fact that the beer complements an active lifestyle.
“Throughout the process of creating these Super Bowl spots, there were tons of team meetings, both internally and with the client,” Jackson said. “Many people were involved in the creation of both commercials. As the ideas were developed, it was important to think about what Michelob ULTRA and Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold wanted to convey, and stay on brand in everything we did.
“Similarly, projects at the VCU Brandcenter involved teamwork, brainstorming, creative thinking and hard work. Learning to think differently at the Brandcenter and push the limits to get to great work was perfect practice for working on Super Bowl spots,” Jackson said.
All hands on deck
Perfume for dogs and adult diapers prepared Emily Hudson for her Super Bowl ad debut.
When Hudson was placed on the Super Bowl ad account for the Toyota Highlander, she was so new at Saatchi & Saatchi that she didn’t even know where to find the good coffee.
“On my third day on the job, my boss pulled me into a conference room and said that, due to some new circumstances, we'd need to help the team come up with a kick-ass Super Bowl idea under a condensed timeline,” she said. “It was all hands on deck. So I had to jump in and immediately familiarize myself with the work that had been done so far on the target audience and the rest of the vehicle launch strategy.”
As a strategist, Hudson’s role was to help bring the target audience to life for the creative teams and to help them write stories that would inspire and connect with that audience — on a scale as large as the Super Bowl. The strategic objective for the Highlander spot was to shatter the stereotypes associated with midsize SUVs as traditional family haulers.
“I'm glad I got used to diving right into projects at Brandcenter,” she said. “With the short timelines of Brandcenter projects, I got used to jumping in and tackling a project immediately. ... After Don [Just, creative brand management,] made me present a harebrained Colonial Village strategy by myself with no deck, defend the viability of perfume for dogs, and walk through a deep dive about Depend adult diapers, I figured I could probably handle whatever the ad industry threw at me.”
Western dance-off showdown
Sam Dworkin and Mike Rodriguez of Goodby Silverstein & Partners can scratch one thing off their advertising bucket lists: working on a spot for the Super Bowl.
“It feels great to have one in the books that we’re proud of,” Dworkin said.
The spot for Doritos Cool Ranch features a western dance-off showdown between Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott. An award-winning artist, legendary actor and crazy dance moves, all set to a catchy, record-breaking song? No wonder they are proud.
“Doritos added more Cool Ranch flavor to their Cool Ranch Doritos, and the western duel was a motif that came to mind from early rounds,” Rodriguez said. “The team wanted to find a way to make the traditional standoff ‘cooler.’ Doritos has a history of tapping into culturally relevant artists, so it made sense to bring in Lil Nas X after his record-breaking song, ‘Old Town Road,’ blended the hip hop and country music genres.”
For his opponent, the team wanted a recognizable cowboy type. The clear choice was Elliott, an archetypal cowboy.
At the Brandcenter, Dworkin and Rodriguez learned the importance of campaign-able ideas — ideas that can live beyond a simple TV execution. So once the idea for the TV spot was established, the team made it accessible to the masses by partnering with a virtual dance app, Sway, that lets fans emulate the dance moves from the commercial. They also plan to invite participation through social media activations on Twitter and TikTok.
“It’s both really exciting and also kind of scary knowing you’ve worked on something so many people will see,” Dworkin said. “It’s tough because any ad will have both positive and negative responses, but for Super Bowl ads, those reactions are amplified.”
Drinking coffee in a sweaty little room
The Brandcenter taught art director James Moslander and copywriter Adam Tetreault to hone their abilities to judge their own work.
“Brandcenter helped us to understand what an idea is, to not be precious, and to be prolific,” Tetreault said. “Basically to love the process and use it to push for the best creative possible.”
They also learned an unrelenting work ethic and lateral thinking, all which came into play as they developed Facebook’s first Super Bowl showing at Wieden + Kennedy Portland.
“We don’t present ideas we aren’t interested in producing,” Moslander said.
The spot’s simple premise and musical hook, production value and celebrity cameos made it Super Bowl-worthy, the pair said.
“Facebook wanted to drive home the idea that ‘there’s a Facebook group for everyone,’” Tetreault said. “We figured the best way to do that was to show that there are literally endless groups out there to be a part of. The challenge was finding a compelling backbone to tie all these disparate groups together. Much coffee drinking and concepting in a sweaty little room ensued, and many scripts were written.”
While this is Tetreault’s first time at the Super Bowl, Moslander has previously worked on three others.
“Having an ad in the Super Bowl is the one chance for everyone in your family, as well as your neighbors and friends who aren’t in the industry, to actually see something you made as it airs,” he said. “It’s probably the closest some of these people will ever get to understanding what we do for a living.”
Super Bowl LIV ads by VCU Brandcenter alumni
The VCU Brandcenter, a graduate program for advertising and branding in Richmond, Virginia, is a breeding ground for future Super Bowl commercial makers. Most people in the advertising industry work their whole careers without ever having the chance to work on a Super Bowl spot. This year, a record 25 Brandcenter alumni worked on 17 of the most talked about Super Bowl ads.
“Our alumni are the creative minds behind some of the biggest brands in the world,” said Vann Graves, executive director of Brandcenter. “We’re proud to see such a huge number of Brandcenter alums behind the scenes of the biggest media event of the year.”
Garrick Sheldon (CW, 2014) Wieden + Kennedy New York, NY
Marcus Brown (2008) and Marika Wiggan (2010), Preacher Austin
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