How to Win the Super Bowl

Paul Venables, co-founder of Venables Bell & Partners, on the challenges of creating ads for the big game

Venables Bell & Partners, which has produced Super Bowl spots for clients like Audi, Vizio and Intel, is a big fan of advertising in America’s most-watched TV event. It’s no wonder. A recent VB&P poll found that a third of Americans will seek out Super Bowl ads before kick-off this year, and after the game one-half will re-watch their favoite spots. Agency co-founder Paul Venables called a time-out and spoke to Adweek about how advertisers can score in the big game.

Adweek: What have you learned from working on Super Bowl spots?

Venables: It’s like doing an entire campaign. There are a million different elements you have to consider today. There are the different audiences and reasons for doing a Super Bowl spot, and that dictates how you approach different objectives. You have to attack it with more force, more resources, more ideas and earlier than I ever thought you would work on in a commercial.

How involved do marketers get in the ads?

Senior management wants to be involved. There’s an excitement; they want to show the world. It ups the ante and heightens expectations. That’s part of the process, figuring out why you are in the Super Bowl. What are you looking to? Is it Twitter buzz during the game, the previews, the postviews, Good Morning America, the USA Today poll? Are you looking at all the polls in aggregate, to sales, awareness, Google searches, dealer visits? There are a million metrics, and you have to decide what you are measuring. You can say “all of the above,” but that is not the realistic way to market.

Given all the advance hype, do you worry that the actual Super Bowl spot is anti-climactic?

No matter what happens, I don’t think you can spoil your presence on game day because it’s a different experience. When I go to a link and it’s a YouTube page or a Facebook page and I’m looking at a little window, it’s cool. That’s neat, but when you’re sitting there with your big flat screen and you have people over and a beverage in your hand and a spot comes on and the place goes silent, it’s awesome. There’s no replacing that.

Considering the money involved and the global visibility, why do we see so many of the same Super Bowl clichés year after year?

It’s a reflection of America’s entertainment tastes, the recurring story lines, the big Hollywood blockbusters. The Super Bowl is our glorious moment, but it also makes me feel bad for the industry because on one hand you see great innovative work, and on the other, you see stuff that gets lauded in the polls or in the postbuzz, and it’s just terrible. Not only are they ideas that aren’t well produced, but they’ve also been done before. All that consumer-generated stuff is getting old. I would love it if it was showing a new way of doing ads, talking about products or telling a story, but they just mimic our industry. We talk about the gimmicks, the talking babies, people getting kicked in the nuts, horses and dogs and whatnot; I would love to just see some good stories return.

What advice do you have for creative people who are making their first Super Bowl spot?

Do it because you enjoy your craft and you want to make something great. As soon as you start worrying about the polls, the press, the next day and what’s on the Today show and what got three stars here and five stars there, you’re going to go out of your freaking mind. Of course, if you have a monkey carrying a talking baby, kicking a guy in the groin, you might help yourself.