What’s it Like Making a Super Bowl Ad? A Creative Pulls Back the Curtain in ‘Super Bowl Diaries’

By Kyle O'Brien 

Not everyone wants to watch sausage being made, but when the meat in question is a behind-the-scenes look at a compelling Super Bowl ad, bring on the sausage maker.

Leo Rosa Borges, an associate creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi LA, was lucky and talented enough to be a part of last year’s Super Bowl spot for the Toyota Highlander, featuring Cobie Smulders as a soccer mom who saves the day in a series of Hollywood tropes. The ad traipsed from a disaster movie to a wild western to an alien invasion and a kid being left in the rain, with Smulders rescuing people in her Highlander.


Borges lets us peer behind the curtain at the process of making the ad, putting out a 10-part video blog called “The Super Bowl Diaries” in the leadup to Super Bowl Sunday. Here are a few of his gems of ad making wisdom.

Episode 1: The Winning Idea. In talking about the idea for the spot, Borges said: “The idea started gaining momentum and started to be the front runner… At that point, you don’t want to get your hopes up because more often than not, ideas die. It was a really solid idea. The idea was about the car’s power and the car’s spaciousness that we used in the in the spot to save people from those situations.”

Episode 2: To Celeb or Not to Celeb. The episode debated whether to use a celebrity or not, with the decision finally coming to cast Smulders. “We would prefer not to have a celebrity. Because it doesn’t really help the idea. Do we just want to make a big show out of it? Or do we stay true to the idea? I want to stay true to the idea, because the best commercials are the commercial that always stay true to the idea and the idea is what communicates,” Borges said.

Episode 3: Picking a Director. A search for a director eventually settled on first-time Super Bowl director Tim Bullock. Said Borges on trying to find the best fit: “Do you want to do a Super Bowl spot with a director who really wants to do it? Or do you want to do a Super Bowl spot with a guy who thinks it might not be his best work or the budget’s not enough to execute his vision?”

Episode 4: Keep on Writing. Writing and rewriting was an issue throughout the shoot. “At some point me and my partner did bring up a concern, because we were starting to get worried—worried that we’re forgetting the idea, and the idea is great, and we’re trying to be funny for the sake of being funny, and that was going to mess up the whole commercial.”

Episode 5: How Much Can You Fit in 60 Seconds. In the art direction, the team had to be concise while building a backstory. “We don’t have time to do any back story, but we need to come up with these [to] solidify that in our mind. So that informs the art direction: what kind of clothes you’re wearing, what kind of equipment to use. So we make everything concise. We want people to look at [the scenes] and think, ‘oh, that’s that kind of movie I’ve already I’m already familiar with.’ So we want to make sure everything makes sense.”

Episode 6: The Shoot. The shoot was both rewarding and exhausting for Borges. “We had the celebrity there, and she’s fucking great. She nailed it every time. Then we were to move to the street to shoot in front of the movie theater…all that shit was taking forever, man. And obviously everybody was tired of sitting inside a van. I’m feeling tired here just talking about it.”

Episode 7: Post production. “I feel super blessed that it’s going well, because I’ve been in too many projects where you have a great idea and as you go through the gauntlet you have to present stuff to the client, get stuff approved through edits, and so on. [Then] the idea starts to fall apart…I give credit to the idea because the idea was strong.”

Episode 8: The Curveball. A few curveballs were thrown in the way, including Covid-19 and the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, from a helicopter crash, which made them pull a scene with a helicopter in it. “That’s why we no longer have a helicopter scene. We have a scene with a with an armored vehicle that used to be a helicopter. We had 24 hours to change that whole helicopter scene, and you had to find a way to replace that, which we did,” said Borges.

Two more episodes of the Super Bowl Diaries will land on the site before this year’s big game.