Creative Focus: ‘Super’ Stars

Like many of the 132 million Americans expected to watch ABC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XXXVII on Sunday, Richard Sabean, creative director and art director at J. Walter Thompson in New York, will gather with friends to watch the game on a large-screen television.

A Super Bowl veteran—he worked on several big-budget productions while at Pepsi agency BBDO New York earlier in his career—Sabean will be cheering for what may turn out to be the most cheaply produced spot on the game. The 15-second commercial that he directed himself for Trident was shot on video and later refined in post to adopt the look of film. “It doesn’t have to be checkbook advertising to be a great Super Bowl ad,” Sabean says, though he declines to reveal the spot’s production cost.

At this year’s average selling price of $2.1 million per 30-second slot, the Pfizer Adams brand’s Bowl entry is an important first-time investment for Trident. “Squirrel” reveals why the fifth dentist that consumers have heard about since the 1970s doesn’t recommend the gum. A parody of the brand’s “four out of five dentists” claim, the spot shows the dentists casting their votes as the fifth screams “No!”—a squirrel has crawled up his pants and bit him.

Dubbed “the little spot that could” by the agency, “Squirrel” scored so unexpectedly well in consumer testing that New York-based Trident decided it was a perfect commercial for the Bowl, says Tom McPartlin, director of marketing for the brand. “People are looking for advertising that has a little bit of a different twist and edginess on it,” he says, noting that Trident has run no TV ads since late 2001. “It’s the perfect venue to make our return.”

The execution, slated for the first half, will face stiff competition. A week before game time, the Bowl’s largest advertiser, Anheuser-Busch, has decided to run nearly a dozen commercials, mostly humor-oriented spots for Budweiser and Bud Light, traditional crowd pleasers. Pepsi, another Bowl staple, will take its “Shockingly Refreshing” campaign for Sierra Mist national with a new execution and at press time was also choosing among a number of celebrity-studded efforts for its Super Bowl presence. Among the splashiest being considered was a Pepsi Twist ad from BBDO featuring the dysfunctional family of the moment, the Osbournes, as well as a spot with new spokeswoman Beyoncé Knowles that was directed by Spike Lee of New York agency Spike DDB.

Compared with 2002, when 9/11 tributes tempered the mood, the celebratory nature of the ads will be amplified this year, notes Ted Sann, chief creative officer of BBDO New York and North America. Clients have been more decisive about their creative choices, he says.

Other bold-faced names in attendance include Michael Jordan, possibly the ultimate commercial endorser, who will tout two brands during the game, Pepsi’s Gatorade and Hanes. Country legend Willie Nelson pokes fun at his fiduciary problems for H&R Block, and Celine Dion belts out a track from her latest album for Chrysler.

“There is no other broadcast that can claim the efficiencies and potency of having an ad associated with it,” says media consultant Steve Soldano of advertisers’ un wavering interest in the costly media buy. “[It’s] the beginning of the year, and this allows them to make a huge statement to the Americans who watch this event.”

The tremendous audience a Super Bowl buy gives a marketer isn’t lost on Bob Lachky, vp of brand management and director of global creative for Anheuser-Busch. “In this country, there will always be an appetite for big live events,” he says. “This is an essential platform to us.”

Bud Light is expanding the popular “True” campaign with a new execution that will introduce the themeline “Think fresh. Drink fresh,” according to Lachky. The St. Louis brewer will also debut a spot for its latest product push, the low-carb, low-calorie Michelob Ultra. “The brand is 3 months old and it is going through the roof,” says Lachky. “Here’s a chance to take it to the next level.”

Despite the slim odds of topping the next day’s water-cooler chatter, McPartlin thinks Trident’s Super Bowl bet will be a sure-fire hit. “People have come to expect the big companies to be out there. People will be surprised to see Trident among them,” he theorizes. “I think it’s going to really pop. I’ll put the humor of our spot against one of them.”