The Key To Great Super Bowl Advertising

So the other day, I was asked, “What is it like to have a commercial on during the Super Bowl?”

Well, at the risk of losing any cool cred, it’s – pretty dang awesome (apologies to Diane Fannon).

The Super Bowl is the one time my (non-advertising) friends and family really care about commercials. It’s the one time of the year when working on commercials may actually be, dare I say, “hip.” (Well, every episode of Mad Men too ­– but I’m no Don Draper). So, for me to try to act nonplussed about having my spot played for 110 million people is, well – it ain’t gonna happen.

But I will say that out of the 110 million people who did see my commercial, I feel compelled to talk about one person who didn’t see it. Or at least not in the conventional sense. My dad.

If my dad had known I had a spot during the Super Bowl, he would’ve been completely inverted with excitement. To say Ted Cochran was an enthusiastic guy would be like describing a baby koala bear as “fairly” cute. Dad was a thermonuclear fountain of pride and joy. And he constantly embarrassed the heck out of me with his zeal. If he wasn’t telling the same joke to a stranger sitting next to him at a sushi bar (EVERY TIME), he was announcing to some young kid bagging groceries about how I was the creative “mind” behind the talking-ham-sandwich commercials for Florida orange juice – 10 years ago. (Imagine the looks that got.)

Dad also loved football, and he loved to hold large football-watching parties – especially back in the heyday of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. He had this large brass key that he’d hold high above his head, announcing, “Key play!” meaning partygoers needed to put their snacks down and focus on the TV for an important play. Eventually, my Dad loved holding that key up so much that “Key play!” pretty much became all third downs.

Dad was also a struggling documentary filmmaker. It’s a shame he lived in a time before we all had high-def cameras on the phones in our pockets. Shooting movies on expensive 16 mm film, he mostly chased windmills, as he couldn’t afford the luxuries of content-volume that today’s Morgan Spurlocks and Michael Moores have at their fingertips. But as much as he wanted to leave me a legacy of his documentary-film fortune (ha!), he gave me a gift much greater than that: He encouraged me to get into a creative field. Both of my parents did, really (my mom’s a hoot too, trust me). As a kid, I was always encouraged to draw on blank pieces of paper in lieu of coloring books, to invent games rather than buy new ones, to write stories of my own. (Hey, wait a minute – maybe the whole thing was just because we were broke. Whatever – never mind, it worked out.)

But ultimately, Dad was the guy who encouraged me to leave a perfectly good job, pack up my Honda, and drive across the country – all so I could spend every waking minute putting together a black box full of “fake ads.” I am eternally grateful to my dad for that encouragement.

Sadly, my dad took his own life seven years ago. Long undiagnosed (though unbelievably obvious in hindsight) bipolar disorder became his painful undoing.

After his memorial service, the first thing I did was snag that bronze “Key play!” key and take it home with me.

So, a few Sundays ago, as I watched the first quarter of the Super Bowl end, I knew my commercial was about to come on. As I watched, I grabbed that bronze key and gripped it tightly in my hands. Then, with about 20 friends and family, plus another 110 million people – give or take – I watched what I consider to be the funniest commercial I’ve ever done. (And the end of another crazy adventure/lesson, but that’s a whole other story.)

Key play? Hell yeah, it was.

If you don’t think my dad would’ve been proud, you’re nuts.

If you think I don’t know how lucky I am, you probably don’t think baby koalas are even “fairly” cute.

Hey, I may not know the secret to Super Bowl commercials. But I do know the Key.

Who was your “Ted Cochran”? Who inspired you to get into this game? What’s your “Key”?

Categories: Advertising

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  • Dagney ·

    Hi Bill,Congrats on your Super Bowl spots. As a market research professional, it’s amazing to see how interest among gen-pop spikes during this time. For a commercial to “succeed”, a key element is the ability to engage and activate viewers. Does the viewer do anything, think differently, change behavior in any way after seeing the commercial? I think customers taking action is the best way to determine whether the spot was a success. Here is a blog I think you’ll like that examines Chrysler’s Detroit ad and uses social media listening to see if it had impact anywhere outside the Rust Belt.

  • Cg8wood ·

    Hi Bill – great stuff, and congrats on helping to create TWO SB spots! I also owe it to your Dad for opening my eyes to this industry. Over a chess game with my father in Albuquerque (ah-ha, now you know who this is!), he regaled me with stories of you and your fledgling career in advertising. It’s what convinced me to apply to the Portfolio Center. My parents, of course, also supported me wholeheartedly, which is huge – but without your Dad’s zeal, I might have missed out on the career I still thoroughly enjoy after more than a dozen years!

  • Lorraine T ·

    I thought this was the funniest commercial of the night. I was by myself laughing out loud. Great job!