How Hyundai and the US Military Created a Super Bowl Ad in Less Than an Hour

Film united service members and families abroad

Troops watch the Super Bowl in Prague. Hyundai
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

In a night filled with partisan politics, emotional journeys and bad jokes, the most personal appeal to a key American constituency aired after the Big Game, when Hyundai and its agency of record Innocean Worldwide Americas connected active members of the U.S. military with loved ones half a world away.

The most impressive aspect of “A Better Super Bowl” is that it was all filmed during the game at both Houston’s NRG Stadium and a military base in Zagan, Poland, then aired immediately after the Patriots came back to win the first Super Bowl to need overtime.

The 90-second spot is only the first stage in an ongoing campaign called “Better Drives Us.” And it wouldn’t have happened without the help of the NFL, Fox Sports, the Department of Defense and a team of sleep-deprived strategists, creatives and planners on the media and client sides. (A late, game-tying touchdown by Tom Brady and company didn’t hurt, either.)

Here’s how it went down.

“We have been embracing the military for years,” said Hyundai North America chief marketing officer Dean Evans. “There are a few organizations we support, and we’ve been dedicated to incentive programs for active members and with local dealers located around military bases.”

These initiatives scored Hyundai a spot on two annual lists of America’s top military employers in 2017. “It’s a longstanding relationship,” said Eric Springer, chief creative officer at agency of record Innocean, adding, “It’s organic to the soul of the company, so this wasn’t a stunt whatsoever.”

The planning phase started months ago with one big idea: to surprise U.S. troops stationed abroad on Super Bowl Sunday with virtual visits from their family members in the states.

“[Hyundai] threw a huge party at a base in Poland,” said Springer in summing up the campaign. “These troops are over there so the rest of us can sit around and eat as many buffalo wings as we like on a gluttonous day in America.”

After Innocean got Hyundai on board, Evans pitched the idea to the NFL over the phone. “The best moments of the Super Bowl won’t happen on the field,” he said—and while both the league and Fox Sports weren’t initially sure what to make of such a huge project, all parties quickly got on board. Springer said, “The Department of Defense really loved the idea and kept asking, Can we bring a few more troops in?”

The Innocean/Hyundai team effectively split, with one half in Poland and the other in Houston along with director Peter Berg of “Friday Night Lights” fame. They chose three service members and flew their families to Houston the week before the Super Bowl; it was a larger undertaking than one might think given the U.S. military’s classification system, but the team made it work.

In Poland, Hyundai set up an immersive tent (created by Igloo) in which the selected service members could watch the game in 360 degrees, unaware that they would soon be surprised by their loved ones. “It was a huge reversal,” said Springer of the campaign’s key innovation. “We’ve all seen spots where the troops surprise the family, but this time the family surprised the troops.”

While this was going on, the teams were simultaneously shooting in both locations during the first quarter of the game, the Innocean team embedded with the NFL Films crew in Houston. “Everything you have to do in three months for a normal ad we did in about 48 minutes,” Springer said. Most of the second quarter involved editing that footage in a trailer outside the stadium in Houston. “We had to be very decisive, which agencies aren’t generally known for,” Springer said, “and by halftime we had a cut. Then a Fox Sports guy, an NFL guy and two Department of Defense people sat in the trailer, watched it and said, ‘We love it.'”

After delivering the final work to Fox during the third quarter, the team finally had a moment to breathe, head up to the suite and take in the last minutes of the game along with the military families and Hyundai executives.

That was when Brady and his team took things into overtime. “You can’t buy that kind of timing,” Springer said, and Evans described the end of Sunday’s game as a case of “everything coming together at once, thank God!”

Viewers may note that this work, unlike every other auto ad that ran last night, did not include any product shots or related footage. “It was a huge act of ‘better’ on Hyundai’s part,” said Springer. “You don’t always have to show a car to sell a car; you have to show a better car company.”

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.