Master of the Super Bowl, Bob Scarpelli shares the keys to winning the USA’s biggest ad game.


The Game Within the Game
Four friends and a simple phrase that started a worldwide phenomenon. “Whassup???”

Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame parachuting into the Super Bowl with a dog and a bag of Rold Gold pretzels.

Rex the dog getting his shot at Hollywood fame, courtesy of Budweiser.

The famous Budweiser Clydesdales lining up to kick the game winning extra point. “They always do that? Nah, they usually go for two.”

A “Magic Fridge” that somehow always appears full of Bud Light.

Cedric the Entertainer dancing with his Bud Light anticipating a romantic evening.

A Clydesdale and a Dalmatian who were separated at birth.

Those are just a few of the great Super Bowl spots our team at DDB Chicago did over the years. And of course, there’s a story behind each one of them.

For that Rold Gold spot, we shot Jason Alexander parachuting into the stadium just after the conference championship games so when he landed, he could salute the team that eventually won (“Go Niners!”) and we would be ready for some last minute editing. We also used the actual game announcers to complete the illusion that he actually landed on the field that day. Oh wait…I was at that game in Phoenix and I for sure actually saw it happen…. maybe one too many Buds that day.

In the mid-nineties, we decided that we could use those magnificent Clydesdales in more engaging ways than they had been used up until then…running down the beach or in the snow. “Clydesdale Football” sprung from that kind of thinking, which we still see the brand using to this day. We had to train those horses for months to get them to kick a football. Right. Thank you, CGI.

And of course, there was the spot and campaign that made history, Budweiser’s “Whassup?” There are a lot of stories to tell about that one! But actually, it didn’t debut on the Super Bowl. August Busch IV believed in its potential so much that he decided to run it as soon as possible, which turned out to be on the playoffs that year. But it still was a winner on the game.

In fact, we had a run when we “won” the USA Today Ad Meter poll ten times. I’m proud of that. One of the things I always tried to do with our work was create “Talk Value”, to get our brands and our work into the culture conversation. The Super Bowl was the perfect venue to do that. Our work on the Super Bowl helped cement DDB Chicago’s creative reputation as a player and a winner.

I think the same holds true for brands and agencies today. Brands on the Super Bowl look to our customers like important brands, brands with something to say. Smaller brands get the chance to “go big” and get in the conversation. That huge audience and great idea will guarantee it. While a lot of agencies today will downplay the significance of being on the game, I’d argue it’s still important to our most important audience…all those potential customers sitting in front of their TVs waiting for what’s next. And just waiting to text, tweet, instagram and Facebook what they think. Word of mouth will always be the best medium of all.

We used to have to wait to see the Super Bowl spots until game time. Now they are “previewed” in the weeks before the game. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I think Super Bowl watchers still like to be surprised.

So even though the world has changed, I think the keys to creating a winning Super Bowl spot remain the same. First is having a client brave enough to “go for it.”  We were lucky to have clients like that, particularly Anheuser-Busch. The second is to have a creative team that relishes the challenge of playing on the biggest stage of the year. The scrutiny and the money spent are not for the faint of heart. Having a memorable Super Bowl spot can still be a career changer. The third is to not be timid about going for the emotional reaction you want…a huge laugh, a big smile, maybe even a tear. And fourth is to pray the game isn’t a blowout when your spot is on in the fourth quarter!

This article also ran in Campaign US.