What Goes into a Super Bowl Ad?
With one Super Bowl and numerous awards under his belt, writer/director David Brashear is a veteran of video advertising, having produced low-budget video spots for major brands like Pringles, Pepsi, Sears, and AT&T. His Speed Stick commercial “Laundromat” (embedded below) was cited amongst Forbes Magazine’s “Best Commercials of Super Bowl XVLII.”
He was kind enough to give us some pointers on creating winning video ads for today’s audiences:
FunMobility: The Super Bowl isn’t just the biggest day of the year for football fans—it’s also the biggest day of the year for TV advertisers. How did a guy like you, without a ton of credits to your name, get to direct a commercial that aired during the game?
Brashear: Blind luck! In the summer of 2012, I did a project for Speed Stick that ran on YouTube and Hulu, and I kind of figured that was all the airtime it was going to get. But, two weeks before the Super Bowl, a slot opened up and the advertising agency told me that Speed Stick’s marketing department had decided to buy the slot and air my commercial. So it was totally unexpected for me. I never dreamed it would air during the Super Bowl.
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What was it about your commercial that got Speedstick so enthusiastic?
Relatability. I think the Speed Stick commercial was so popular because most people have had to share laundry machines, and they’ve been in the situation where someone has left their clothes in the machine for far too long. At one apartment I lived in, someone had left their clothes in the dryer and I had to take them out. When I was removing them, I noticed it was all bras and panties and I thought it would be really awkward if someone walked in as I was moving these undergarments. So that’s where the basic idea for the commercial came from. I think it was a good choice for the Super Bowl because it was slightly inappropriate, but not objectionable enough to upset more conservative folks.
Following that train of thought, what’s the best way for advertisers to make a lasting impression on a client? And how do you nurture that relationship?
I think the best way to make an impression is to not insult the audience. I think advertisers and brands play it too safe most of the time. The end result is a commercial that doesn’t offend anyone, but is pretty bland and forgettable. Commercials targeted at women are the worst offenders. For some reason, advertisers think women don’t like comedy. Even though movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat have done really well with female audiences.
What’s the secret to coming up with a compelling video ad that still reflects brand messaging?
Not sure if there’s a secret. Frankly, it’s really hard. Writing is really important. If the copy isn’t great, there’s not much that can be done to save the spot. Established brands have an easier time in my opinion, because when you don’t have to explain the product you are selling, you have a lot more freedom. Budweiser doesn’t have to explain what beer is, you know? That gives them the opportunity to essentially create entertaining short films.
What do you do when you’re stuck in the conceptual phase of a project?
Ask for help. Whenever I’m stuck in the conceptual phase, I’ll talk to everyone I know for inspiration. Oftentimes the core idea is there, but getting a second opinion or a different perspective will open it up. For the Duck Tape commercial I did, I had an image of Duck Tape rolls leaving a trail of tape behind them like the light cycles in Tron. But I didn’t really know where to take it from there. My friend was actually the one who suggested recreating the scene from the movie. And the whole project kind of blossomed from that point.
From a creative perspective, how do you make a video ad that consumers will want to watch all the way through?
For the work that I do, I try to incorporate story elements. So starting with a relatable scenario or conflict that people want to see resolved. Really compelling imagery can also keep people interested though. A Victoria’s Secret commercial isn’t going to have much story, but I’m guessing most people watch those all the way through.
You seem to employ a healthy dose of comedy with all your work. Would you say humor is the strongest tool an advertiser can use?
Comedy is just one tool an advertiser has. Lately, sentimental commercials have become popular. I guess it all just depends on the product and the message the brand wants to convey. I’m a fan of comedy just because it’s less of a hard sell. I don’t think people like to be sold to, so if you can kind of hide the marketing message within the comedy it makes for a pill that’s easier to swallow. I did an ad for AT&T that, on the surface, is just a funny story about two guys trying to impress a girl at a bar. But it’s actually all framing to hide the sell (AT&T has the fastest network).
Your ads have aired on television, online, and in mobile campaigns. Are there different considerations when you’re producing content for these three channels?
I think each format needs to be approached in a different way. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s how most advertisers think. The only difference I’ve seen is with the budgets. Mobile and Internet commercials usually just have a much lower budget. The thought process seems to be: the smaller the screen, the less money we have to put into it.
You typically work with TV-standard 30 second spots, but on mobile devices there’s a preference for shorter video ads—often 15 seconds or less. How can advertisers make an impact in such a condensed span of time?
Most :15 spots are just cut downs of :30 spots. In my opinion, this is a horrible way to go about making them. When you are losing half of your running time, stuff is going to get lost in translation. A lot of times, I’ll be asked to reduce a :30 spot to :15 for mobile, and agency will be complain: “What happened to this part, or that joke?”
A better way to produce the :15 spot is to go in with that running time in mind from the very beginning. When you’ve got such a short runtime, airtight planning is super important. After the :30 Speed Stick Super Bowl spot, I did a :15 spot for Lady Speed Stick, which was conceptualized as :15 from the start—and I think it worked pretty well. But even then, the agency changed the length of the graphics after I shot it, from five seconds to eight. Three more seconds doesn’t seem like a lot, but in a :15 spot, it’s huge. I thought I had 10 seconds of video, but it turned out I only had seven. So another thing I think is important is to minimize branding in a :15 spot. Two to three seconds of graphics is more than enough. People get it. A better told story does a lot more for brand recall than a few extra seconds of staring at a logo.
What are the three biggest mistakes you see advertisers making with video spots?
The biggest mistakes marketers make are:
- Creating bland, unmemorable spots to avoid offending anyone. You know what really offends people? Boring them.
- Cutting :30 spots down to :15, instead of approaching them as separate projects.
- Thinking one spot will work for all audiences.
Where do you see the video advertising industry heading, five years from now, and how should marketers and advertisers prepare themselves?
I think internet and mobile advertising will become much bigger than it currently is. I think advertisers will have to start approaching these spots in new ways, instead of treating them like an afterthought. One cool thing is the ability to be interactive with online and mobile commercials, which certain brands have already started to embrace.
The other great thing about mobile and internet marketing is that it can be extremely targeted to different audiences. In the future, we might see more and more specialized content; brands creating different ads to target specific people. So a cookie company might create three different ads: one for kids, one for young adults, and one for parents. And those ads could be three different genres: like comedy, nostalgia, and lifestyle.
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