Leigh Browne's Insight on Super Bowl Ads
Associate Creative Director at GSD&M shares her experience with and insights on Super Bowl advertisements.
Name: Leigh Muzslay Browne
Major at UT: Advertising (Graduate Program)
Sequence: Texas Creative
Graduation date: May 2011
Current Livelihood: Associate Creative Director/GSD&M/Austin, TX
Accounts: Avocados From Mexico, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Hilton Hotels and Resorts
1. What are some of the Super Bowl ads you’ve worked on in the past?
I worked on the first two Avocados From Mexico ads (First Draft Ever in 2015 and Bounty of Earth in 2016). This year, my partner (AdGrad Jon Williamson) and I are working on another one.
2. We know a great strategy takes time. When does Super Bowl ad planning start?
This year, the creative department got briefed in July, which mean our strategy team was working even before then.
3. What’s the planning process like?
This year, the brief went out to the entire creative department and anyone with extra time could throw in ideas. The group creative directors went through hundreds of ideas before narrowing it down to about seven scripts that made it to the first client meeting. My partner and I had one in the mix. Client killed four. Ours lived.
But we all kept concepting. For the second meeting, we had two new scripts go to the client. And there were definitely new ones from other teams. There may have even been a third meeting—it’s all a blur now.
Eventually, the client picked four scripts to go into testing, including one of ours from the second meeting. (Good lesson: It’s never over after the first meeting. Keep throwing in ideas until last call.)
This whole concepting process went from mid-July to mid-September.
For testing, we worked with an illustrator and editor to build animatics (animated storyboards).
And then we waited for the results, which took until early November.
We got it.
Then the real work comes—finding a director and production company, writing new jokes and more new jokes, cutting jokes to make the budget work, figuring out which celebrity will be funny (and within budget and agree to do it), writing a teaser and so on.
For actual production, it’s the same as most commercials—we work with the production company to bring the script to life through casting, the set, sound design and so on. But with the Super Bowl, there’s a ton of pressure and no chance to push the deadline.
We are knee-deep in that process right now.
Luckily, we have a great producer and team who are helping us hit all the curve balls. (And there are alway curve balls.)
4. How is social now being best integrated?
Some of the smartest social has come from companies who don’t even do a TV spot, like Esurance giving away their budget in 2014. Or Newcastle’s "If We Made It" campaign. (Also in 2014—apparently a good year for social.)
To me, the best social campaigns are often the simplest—especially during the Super Bowl. People have a game to watch. They don’t have time for a 10-step process.
And creating an awesome spot is still one of the best ways to get people talking on social. This is the one night a year that people look forward to commercials. So give them something worth watching.
5. Which side are you on? Publish to YouTube before the game or wait for the big unveil during?
If you’re going to surprise people—like RadioShack did in 2014—really surprise people. But if everyone knows you’re in game, it’s hard to get the views if you don’t release before. I wish we could go back to unveiling all the spots during the game, but that time is gone.
6. What's your favorite Super Bowl ad?
It’s a classic, but I’ll always love “Imported From Detroit.” It was so different and jarring for the time. And it’s beautifully written.
7. During the 2017 Super Bowl, we had a lot of ads centered around diversity and inclusion and even Anheuser Busch's “Born the Hard Way,” which was focused on immigration. Do you forsee a lot of advertisers doing ads with the same tone for 2018?
This is such an interesting question. I appreciate advertisers standing for something, and I’ve loved some of those ads. Audi’s “Daughter” spot was great last year. And even though it was a rerun, Coke’s “America The Beautiful” gets me right in the feels.
But lots of these ads can feel really forced. SNL’s “Pitch Meeting” (https://youtu.be/imUigBNF-TE) really nailed it after last year’s Super Bowl. If it’s not in your brand’s DNA, you don’t generally need to make a big statement.
Given where our country is, I’m guessing the pendulum might swing and a lot of advertisers might shy away from potential controversy (not that diversity should be controversial).
I hope that it stops being a trend and simply becomes something brands do when it makes sense—and when they can do it well.
8. What do you usually do on the day of the Super Bowl?
I’ve been lucky—I haven’t had to work a social media command center yet. So I’ve had my Super Bowls free to watch the game with coworkers and friends.
9. What's been the hardest ad you've worked on and what made it so challenging?
Our first avocados spot was really tough for a couple of reasons.
First off, there’s always a lot of pressure with the Super Bowl. It’s such a big opportunity, and we didn’t want to waste it. My partner and I were competing against the whole agency. And our agency was competing against three or four other agencies. We didn’t think we had a chance, but we forced ourselves to keep pushing. We must have concepted at least 200 ads before hitting on the winning idea.
And getting the spot was just the first hurdle.
We’d never done a spot that big or complicated, so the production learning curve was steep.
Oh, and we were basically making a $2 million spot for $1 million dollars. So that was challenging.
Luckily, our GCDs had just done the super successful RadioShack Super Bowl commercial the year before. And our producer was amazing.
10. Who are your go-to favorite brands to watch for during the big game?
I watch them all, because there’s always some that surprise me. Up-and-comers sometimes steal the show. Huge brands kill it some years and miss completely other years. The only ones I don’t look for are all the movie trailers.
11. Do you have any nuggets of advice for Moody's advertising students?
It’s cliche for a reason, but hard work and a good attitude are everything. They’re basically the only two things you can control. You can’t control how naturally talented you are, but you can cultivate what you’ve got. And this business will always come with frustrations that you can’t control. But if you can roll with and keep going, you’ll be so much better for it.
And, it’s just advertising. Go out there and make awesome work. But don’t let it make you crazy. If you’re not having fun—at least a a good chunk of the time—find something else to do. There’s nothing noble about being miserable.
"You can’t control how naturally talented you are, but you can cultivate what you’ve got."
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