Brandcenter alumni reach ‘the pinnacle of advertising’ with Super Bowl LV spots
Feb. 9, 2021 - Leila Ugincius
Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.
Sunday night Nathan Totten became that champion when, after several attempts, he reached the pinnacle of the advertising industry: creating an ad chosen to run during the Super Bowl.
As a freelancer with Rain the Growth Agency, Totten created, wrote and helped sell the “Goodbye, Hello” spot for Mercari that the online marketplace chose to run.
“I have had three other cracks at a ‘Super Bowl brief’ and one as recently as last year,” said Totten, who graduated from the Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010 as a copywriter. “Last year, I was a bridesmaid — one of four final spots shown to [T-Mobile] but ultimately not chosen.
“It’s funny. This spot wasn’t concepted or produced to be in the Super Bowl, so it doesn’t fall into that celebrities and over-the-top humor that typically ‘makes’ a [Super Bowl] spot. Mercari had just put this in [the] market and it was performing well and they had the opportunity to buy the media to get more eyes on it.”
Totten started work on the Mercari spot more than a year ago.
“Oddly enough, we concepted/wrote/sold the spot in January-March of 2020, then the pandemic started and we aborted the project,” Totten said. “We ended up … producing another commercial entirely remotely because we had to.”
The largely instrumental spot features a cover of “Hello, Goodbye,” by the Beatles.
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Like Totten, Conner Tobiason, senior art director at Anomaly in Los Angeles, didn’t realize he was contending for a Super Bowl spot when he and fellow Brandcenter alumna Cori Johnson helped create the character Tony Bolognavich for Jimmy John's.
The spot tells the story of Tony B. (played by veteran comedian and actor Brad Garrett) and how life was good in the sandwich game until Jimmy John's came along with its hand-sliced meats and fresh vegetables.
“We won the business back in October, produced it in January and finished editing just last week,” Tobiason said. “The owners of JJ's and Inspire Brands liked the Tony B. story so much they decided it needed to be in the Super Bowl. And that's where we are today.”
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Scott Beard, a 2015 Brandcenter graduate, only found out a few days ago through Ad Age that his spot would run. Sunday night’s Rocket Mortgage ad was actually his fourth surprise Super Bowl ad, including a regional spot, said Beard, who worked on the ad as freelance strategist for Highdive Advertising in Chicago.
“I only work with them when they need help on a project and then I clock out and I never hear about it again until I see it on TV,” he said. “It was so weird because it was a surprise. I was just sitting on my couch [the other] night, next to my girlfriend. I was like, ‘Oh, hey, I have a Super Bowl spot.’”
All of the creators of Sunday night’s ads had to figure out logistically how to make their ads remotely.
“Shooting and directing remotely is wild, but it’s funny how quickly it’s becoming normal — this is now my third,” Totten said. “And it’s honestly a dream come true. When I first started studying advertising at the University of Kansas, I didn’t even know about award shows and all the rest. So the Super Bowl really was the pinnacle of advertising to me. I remember thinking that would be the ultimate goal for a career in advertising because everybody in the country sees it.”
In total, 20 Brandcenter alumni had a hand in creating 14 ads that aired during Super Bowl LV:
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Michael Hagos (Art Direction, 2011); Wieden+Kennedy New York