Play by Play

Creating an ad that will get the attention of a potential 138 million viewers—and please a client paying $2.3 million per 30 seconds—is no easy feat. For some, it’s a long process: Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Arnold creatives contacted more than 150 factories before finding one that would allow its equipment to be filled with glass-spiked popsicles for an American Legacy ad. And for one agency, Ogilvy & Mather in New York, all the work was squeezed into one frantic week after IBM decided at the last minute to buy time for a new Linux ad starring Muhammad Ali. Here’s a look at how five other spots made it onto the game.

Spot “Born a Donkey” Client Budweiser Agency Goody, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco

When the Goodby, Silverstein & Partners team arrived at Grant’s Farm, the St. Louis home of Budweiser’s Clydesdales, to shoot their Super Bowl commercial, they realized something about the ad’s star animal: Mules are big and boring. Production scouts quickly prepared to ship in smaller mules from Texas and Chicago—until the creatives realized they wanted a different animal altogether. “We found out that donkeys are infinitely more funny,” explains copywriter Steve Dildarian, who provided the donkey’s first-person voiceover. “They have more personality in their faces and are a lot smaller.”

Like the Louie the Lizard characters Dildarian and the agency created in the ’90s, the scenario—a donkey gets a shot at his lifelong dream to become a Clydesdale, even adding hair extensions to his legs to fit the part—is a classic underdog story. “It’s something everyone relates to,” says the copywriter, who works with art director Tyler Magnusson. “Everyone has dreams; everyone imagines they can do something great with their lives.”

It took a while, however, for the shop to win over the client—the spot was first pitched for last year’s Super Bowl. The concern was that the idea was “too silly,” explains agency co-founder Jeff Goodby, who directed the commercial. “Whenever you shoot with the Clydesdales, it’s very sensitive.” Eventually, Bud execs were persuaded that the team could strike the right comedic tone. Says Goodby: “One of the worst things that could have happened was having it not be beautiful and reverent.” – ELEFTHERIA PARPIS

Spots “Car,” “Motorcyle,” “Slow Ride” Client America Online Agency Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

“We’d originally thought of something more typical of Wieden + Kennedy style,” says creative director Tim Hanrahan of Wieden’s first spot in the Bowl in seven years (its Lil’ Penny “Super Bowl Party” ad for Nike aired in 1997). “Something more visually cinematic—even closer to what you might see for Nike. But that wouldn’t do it for AOL or the Super Bowl.”

The big idea for the three spots came out of Hanrahan’s TV habits: He was a fan of Discovery Channel’s reality show American Chopper, starring a family who customizes motorcycles. “Ryan and I had all these axes to cross,” says copywriter Mark Fitzloff, whose partner is art director Ryan O’Rourke. “The value of pop culture, that AOL is family-friendly, the Super Bowl, speed. The Teutuls, with their family business, were at the nexus of these ideas.”

For one ad, the creatives added a sci-fi twist: With a mysterious package from AOL, the Teutuls invent a time machine. “Creative advertising is about contrast,” says Fitzloff. “A dose of fantasy in an ultra-real setting makes it fresh.”

The Teutuls were given copy, but director Hank Perlman of Hungry Man asked them to say it in their own lingo. “We knew it was going to be an improv job,” says Fitzloff. “They came up with far funnier lines than I could find.” The action was deliberately underplayed. “We made a conscious decision that we can’t ‘out-spectacle’ the other guys,” says Hanrahan. “We couched big stunts and action in the realm of reality TV, making it seem offhand. So the viewer would only kind of catch it.”

What’s it like getting three spots in the Super Bowl? “Like winning the lottery three times,” Hanrahan says. “Our only disappointment is not getting to use our legal disclaimer: ‘Don’t try this stunt, numbnuts!’ ” – GREGORY SOLMAN

Spot “I Feel Love,” “Soulmates” Client Monster Worldwide Agency Deutsch, New York

In early September, three months after winning Monster’s account, Deutsch was throwing all kinds of Super Bowl ideas at the client. One concept starred the online site’s mascot, the Trumpasaurus; other campaigns were celebrity powered; and one was a lighthearted, music-driven effort.

Monster founder Jeff Taylor, who moonlights as a DJ, chose the third option for the Maynard, Mass., firm’s sixth Bowl appearance. One spot shows people excited to go to work; the other parallels the similar morning routine of an employer and a job seeker, who are united at the end. “It was just amazing in terms of getting you to think big,” Taylor says. “Part of our Super Bowl effort was not to have you crack up laughing, but to get you to think.”

Taylor himself selected “I Feel Love” for one ad after hearing The Blue Man Group remix of the Donna Summer song and deciding it “felt Monster.” The other song, “I Dig You,” was discovered at age 13 by Deutsch group creative director Bryan Black, a copywriter. The obscure track was recorded in 1979 by the Cure’s Robert Smith under the name Cult Hero.

The music was selected after the shoot, which took place in November in L.A. The team—which also included executive creative director Kathy Delaney and associate creative director Scott Schindler—chose director Jeff Preiss of Epoch Films for his “believable, natural” sensibility. “There’s nothing slick about his footage,” says Delaney. “People don’t look like models, they look like real people. You can feel like, ‘Hey that’s me.’ ” The final piece in the puzzle was Hank Corwin of Lost Planet Editorial, whose ultra-quick cuts give the commercials their unique look. “It was a nice spot cut the way we pictured it,” Black says of “Soulmates,” in which employer and job seeker’s paths eventually meet. “But what Hank did to it took it to another level. There are a dozen things going on with the ties, milk carton, crosswords. I never thought it would all fit in there, but he really told the story.” – MAE ANDERSON

Spot “Willie Doll” Client H&R Block Agency Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis

For H&R Block’s third Super Bowl entry, creatives at Campbell Mithun dug up an idea they had developed for last year’s game. Back then, the concept of a talking Willie Nelson doll giving bad tax advice—and bad advice in general—was nixed because it didn’t fit with the focus on the Double Check service, which reviews customers’ past tax filings. This year, the doll concept was a natural, since H&R Block wanted to tout its advice services.

Creatives pitched other ideas first—one involving cartoon characters following bad tax advice, others that were celebrity driven. But the client wanted to stay consistent with last year’s tone. “The reason we chose Willie hadn’t changed,” says Karl Ploeger, vp of creative and media services. “Using him in a humorous way as a foil for what not to do made a lot of sense.”

For deputy creative director George Halverson, copywriter Joe Stefanson and art director Monty Pera, the doll represented all the dubious sources where people get their tax advice today—”your brother-in-law or golfing buddies,” explains Halverson.

For the ending of the spot, directed by X-Ray Films’ Jesse Peretz, the team wanted a famous face who had shown poor judgment and faced the consequences. They considered Winona Ryder before settling on Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, who notoriously charged a Red Sox pitcher last fall during an on-field melee. Zimmer—who asks the Willie doll if he should “give this kid a shellacking” and is advised to “Bring it on!”—was the most “surprising and topical” choice, Halverson says. On set, Zimmer was a hit. “All the extras gathered around him—he held court,” Halverson recalls. “He was signing baseball bats … he would have given us all day and all night.” – M.A.

Spot “Snap” Client Charmin

Agency Publicis, New York

“I wrote ‘testosterone’ on a little sticky and taped it to my computer,” says Sherry Nemmers, global creative director on Charmin at Publicis, New York. “And I thought about things around football.” Nemmers, copywriter and art director on the spot, had what seemed the uphill battle of giving the toilet paper brand—with its cute bear mascot—a suitably macho vibe. “No one thought Charmin should even consider being in the Super Bowl—it was sort of a joke,” she says. “To overcome that was a great motivation for me.”

Staring at the 6-foot Charmin bear next to her desk, she thought: It’s got to be about the towel. Her idea—a tough football player gets distracted when a towel replaces a piece of Charmin and blows a big play—ultimately overcame spots for brands including Crest (out of Saatchi & Saatchi), Swiffer (The Kaplan Thaler Group), Pringles (Grey) and Prilosec (also Publicis) in a Procter & Gamble shootout to select the company’s first Super Bowl entry.

The bear—looking like a team mascot—replaces the player’s Charmin, then runs away and jumps into the toilet paper’s packaging, an element the spot had to showcase (it now features the bear rather than a baby). The tagline mischievously sticks to the theme: “The softest, strongest Charmin for your end zone.”

The team—including worldwide creative director David Droga and New York creative chief Peter Nicholson—chose to shoot in Toronto’s SkyDome using actors from the ESPN football drama Playmakers. Director Bob Giraldi of Giraldi/Suarez was brought in because he best understood the “big, filmic place” the agency wanted to go, says Nemmers, and could capture the “tension and testosterone” on the field. He shot with film rather than videotape to make the spot look more cinematic.

Nemmers says she and her colleagues gathered around a phone when P&G picked its winner in December. “I went, ‘Oh, my God,’ and we all screamed,” Nemmers says. “No one could have been more surprised than us.” – M.A.