Here’s How You Make A 90-Second Ad For 110 Million People

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What if you had the attention of 110 million people for 90 seconds? 60? 30? What would you say? That’s the question this year’s slew of Super Bowl advertisers have been asking themselves for, oh, about 18 months or so.

And today is their big reveal.

In the go-big-or-go-home world of Super Bowl commercials, one thing is clear: yours has to make an impact — preferably a big one. And if it backfires, well, dear brand-who-shall-not-be-named, you’re out a lot of money. And a lot of credibility, likability, brand loyalty, etc.

And the people who worked on the spot? Unemployment city.

So what does it take to make a good Super Bowl commercial? One that a third of the population of the United States will shush their friends for? And why do we remember the good ones like a long-lost pal: The 1998 exploding Tabasco mosquito? Budweiser’s 2014 mashup of puppies and Clydesdales? Cowboys herding cats? Then, of course, there are celeb cameos, babies and… cool cars.

Tell The Right Story

The old advertising adage still holds true. Every creative team’s goal is to tell a story with their campaign. Toyota’s is no different — especially when they are launching a new vehicle. Nick Ammazzalorso, Toyota’s Marketing Communications Manager, explains, “Super Bowl Sunday is a fixture on the American cultural calendar. The audience is enormous, and, as a brand, you want viewers to remember your ad out of all those that they may have seen.”

In that realm, Toyota’s Prius Super Bowl ad debuts its all-new 2016 Prius in an epic cross-country caper featuring some bumbling bank robbers and cops in hot pursuit of the cherry red Prius with the hot new look.

The team that brought you this year’s spot? They have some solid insight into the process.

Go Big Or Go Home

Super Bowl ads are the Super Bowl of ads. “Make sure you bring your A-game,” Jason Schragger, Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi LA offers. “Super Bowl has its own rules. It’s like playing a game of football. You train for it all year. And it comes around in January or February, and you’re like, okay, let’s do this.”

So this ad was treated like a feature film, produced by a crew versed in producing feature films. Some of the ingredients for Toyota? For starters, a year and a half of strategic planning by 50 creatives who created somewhere around 75 iterations of scripts and a full suite of characters with backstories. Prepping for and executing a 10-day shoot in multiple locations across the country with a full cast and crew. Throw in a couple of helicopters and the first Prius police car, and you’ve got the beginnings of what it took to accomplish the ad.

Assemble The Right Team

Coming up with a solid story, characters and a narrative is one thing. But then you need, as Schragger puts it, “a whole different set of creative thinkers: movie makers, lighting people. People that know how to make a camera work while going 90 mph down a freeway.”

One of those people was third-generation stunt coordinator Lance Gilbert (no relation), who, as a “pretend-a-cop,” got the honor of driving a brand-new 2016 Prius. “We had a blast in this thing, man. We were able to actually whip this thing around.”

Other team members include Hollywood directors, set designers, DPs, PAs. Schragger says, “Super Bowl is made by a team, and if it doesn’t get made by a team it doesn’t work.“

Just like, oh, I don’t know, a pro football team playing in the biggest game of the year?

Be Authentic/Respect Your (Captive) Audience

When half the population of the United States is paying attention to your work – an anomaly in the advertising world – the stakes are high. Schragger explains, “People are actually engaging in what we (Toyota) are doing rather than us trying to grab their attention. And so our efforts have slightly changed because we know that people want to watch. Now we have to make them enjoy what they watch.”

Director Lance Acord, whose credits include Director of Photography on ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Lost in Translation’, agrees. “People have an expectation,” he said. “They know that people will go a little further in terms of the ideas and the budgets, which is a good thing and a bad thing, I think. Sometimes the creative can be disappointing because there’s so much at stake.”

How to avoid that disappointment? According to Jack Hollis, Group VP of Marketing for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., it’s pretty simple: “Don’t over-rely on a celebrity. Don’t over-rely on humor. Just be authentic. Just be who you are.”

Sounds about right. But there’s one more thing you really do need…

Cash Money

This year, you’ll need $4.8 million. For 30 seconds. For 60? Do the math.

So… better get it right.

For more about how your Super Bowl commercial sausage is made, check out the video above featuring Toyota’s spot’s production designer and director, a Hollywood stuntman, Chief Creative Officer for Saatchi & Saatchi, and others with extensive experience producing Super Bowl ads.

Megan Gilbert is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. She tweets here.

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