Building a better Super Bowl spot, Art Center-style

When I think about what it takes to create a great Super Bowl spot, I can’t help but first think of all of the things we had to tell our teams NOT to do to create one.

  • No animals doing things animals can’t do.
  • No old people doing things old people can’t do.
  • No inanimate objects doing things inanimate objects can’t do.
  • No Martians or other forms of aliens.
  • No cavemen.
  • No deserted islands.
  • Nothing that uses the soundtrack from “2001 Space Odyssey.”
  • Nothing that features a chimpanzee, even if it is doing things chimpanzees can do.
  • No one going to heaven.
  • Nothing that requires you to play me a special effects reel from a company in Finland before telling me the idea.
  • No 70′s hits and site gags.
  • No patriotic attempts to make people cry.
  • And please, no old chestnuts I killed last year.

But because of our collective memories of Super Bowls past and the high stakes involved, even the best creative people can fall victim to creating a “Super Bowl Spot” vs. a great spot that happens to run during the Super Bowl.

The simple truth is: What works anytime, anywhere is what works in the Super Bowl. A smart idea with a true insight. And an unexpected and memorable execution.

And ironically, it’s the one time, more than any other, when it’s most important not to get sucked into the vortex of wondering what everyone else is doing and instead just focusing on finding a meaningful connection between the mindset of the audience and whatever it is you’re trying to get them to buy or do.

To encourage our teams to do that, and help break the Super Bowl cliche curse, we sometimes gave the assignment to create a 10 second spot, instead of a 30 or 60. That has a way of forcing people to think in terms of an actual idea, not an empty but expensively produced extravaganza, replete with car crashes, exploding horses and

And another form of creative manipulation led to one of our best Super Bowl spots.

The product was Degree antiperspirant.

We told the teams that they couldn’t present us with scripts or storyboards, only three-dimensional objects to represent their ideas.

One team brought in what looked like an action hero doll in a box. Only they had stuck a label on it calling it an In-Action hero. The idea was that some men never took risks, and therefore never perspired. For men who do take risks, there was Degree.

We ended up producing three spots as ads for the dolls, from a fake company we named Dull-co, but with a Degree message at the end, We also integrated the idea into the game, using Jerome Bettis, the former Steeler and pre-game commentator, as well as a full complement of digital ads and web components.

It was creatively lauded in the reviews and seemed to be well-received by the audience.

At least at the party I was at.

Gary Goldsmith (Advertising, ’81) is Chair of the Advertising Department at Art Center. Previously, Goldsmith spent more than three decades as a top creative at such firms as Lowe Worldwide, DDB, Chiat/Day and Young & Rubicam.

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