Art & Commerce: A Different Game Plan

It’s always been my dream to write a Super Bowl ad. I’m sure I share that dream with many other creatives. The people at Adweek asked me to write about my experience as part of the team that created Emerald Nuts’ Robert Goulet “Boogeyman” ad from last year’s Super Bowl. They were originally going to ask the writer on Coke’s epic “Happiness Factory,” but my partner, Will Hammond, beat that guy’s hands with a lead pipe as he was coming out of the local ice rink, so he can’t type so good right now.

I shouldn’t say that; Rick Condos, the Coke writer, is a great friend of mine. Shit, now I sound like Donald Trump when he talks about all his friends in high places. I can’t imagine there’s any way I’m going to come off impressively in this thing, acting like I know more than I do. I’d rather tell a few stories about making the ad and hope it’s interesting enough. Because me writing about what makes a good Super Bowl ad is like the guys behind “Who Let the Dogs Out” writing about staying relevant in the music industry. I shouldn’t say that; the Baha Men are great friends of mine.

Last year when Will and I were briefed on the Emerald spot, we did what any team would do. We closed the office door and wrote our asses off. We wrote the most insane, ludicrous ideas we could come up with, but ultimately the final ad we landed on is slightly obvious. I know that’s a weird thing to say. A lot of people have asked where the Goulet idea came from, and that’s funny to me because the idea is not freaky in my head. I feel like it comes from a totally rational place.

The brief that our planner, Matt Herrmann, and Tanin Blumberg, our account director, sent us was about how Emerald Nuts have natural energy in them, and they’re a good snack to eat when you hit the 3 p.m. slump. All we did was invent a reason why people would want to be alert at that time. You know, what if something bad happens if you fall asleep in the afternoon? We could have created a little office gremlin that appears at 3 p.m., but that ad would have been average at best.

Looking over the brief, we found a bit of copy right in the middle of a paragraph, something about “around 3 p.m. when your blood sugar and energy are low…” I just lifted that directly as the first line of the voiceover, then added “Robert Goulet appears,” and that was that. It felt funny, Will liked it, and we wrote the spot.

Our creative director, Steve Simpson, has a little-known soft spot for complete absurdity. We sent him the script and he didn’t even flinch. I had secretly hoped for some “Where do you guys get your crack?” response, but for some reason it just made sense to him too. Emerald Nuts CEO Michael Mendes and vp, director of marketing Andrew Burke got behind the idea as well. They just got it and understood all the craziness was not without a point.

I’d love to talk about what a surreal experience it was, actually shooting my first Super Bowl ad. But that fact is, we were shooting Robert Goulet duct taping a sleeping man to his office chair—the whole damn thing was surreal. Goulet was incredible. He was a star, and his charisma was real and magnetic. When the spot finally aired at the end of the third quarter, it exceeded all of my greatest hopes. And by hopes I mean, people actually understood it. More importantly, in the weeks after the game Emerald sales were up 68 percent over the previous year. So it was a success for the people who actually paid for the production.

This year Emerald is on the sidelines, opting for a more traditional TV run with our new work. In some ways it’s a relief. Last year I remember watching the game with a knot in my stomach. As a native New Yorker, this year I’ll be with friends, carefree, drinking beer and hoping for a great upset. I can identify with the Giants. Emerald was last year’s underdog, without the heavy artillery Coke, Budweiser or FedEx usually have.

As far as my predictions for this year, FedEx will be awesome, as always. But what do I know? Who ever knows? That’s the beauty of it. Ironically, I just read that Emerald’s competitor Planters is advertising in this year’s game. I’m sure it will be something great, although part of me hopes the nation is treated to a 60-second animated cane dance starring Mr. Peanut. I can even help them secure the rights to “Who Let the Dogs Out.” Hey, classy I am not. But I’m loyal to my brand, like a dog.

Postscript: Robert Goulet passed away in October 2007. We are honored to have worked with such a rare talent.