What was it like to produce a Super Bowl Commercial?

Unless my team’s in the Super Bowl, I usually look forward to the commercials more than the game itself.  Of course these days the ads are often hyped online in advance of Sunday, but they’re like trailers for movies I want to see;  I’m scrambling out of the pocket every time I sense a blind-side hit.

No, I love watching them on TV, on Super Sunday, ready to laugh and talk about them with family and friends.  This was especially true a few years ago when our Picturelab-produced spot aired during Super Bowl LV.  That was the game between the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs, AKA the Tom-can-win-without-Bill game.  Our spot aired between halfs in major regions including San Francisco, New York and Seattle.

Watch our Super Bowl Commercial here.

So how did this all happen?  After all, we’re not a major marketing agency.  We’ve had our share of successes as a creative video production company over the years, have been featured in TechCrunch and others, but we never imagined we’d get the opportunity to do a Super Bowl spot.


The Proposal and Creative Pitch

Rewind a few weeks and our friend and ally, Gong, asked us to submit a proposal for a commercial.  As all good clients do, the CMO at the sales and revenue intelligence B2B was very transparent and let us know up front they had contacted other agencies as well.  Needless to say, we lost a lot of sleep the next few days coming up with concepts.  In fact, over one brainstorming all-nighter, we came up with about twenty different ideas.  A few of them were brilliant (well, at least they were at three in the morning) but most of them were extremely corny.  How many gong puns and gags and David Mamet spoofs can you come up with in one night?  Apparently quite a lot!

We ultimately decided that any slapstickish use of the gong was out.  Too cheap, too easy.  No, we wanted to go above that.  We had to respect the gong.  We ended up throwing most of our concepts away, and pared down to three.  

No need for suspense: we pitched, got the job and were on our way.  Fortunately, the client chose the concept we really wanted to do.  It featured forced perspective, a fun challenge for any filmmaker to take on.  It would be entirely practical – no VFX.  


Importance of Cast and Crew

After refining the script, we set off to put together the cast and crew.  

Casting was easy as long as we could get him.  Michael Marinaccio was the perfect VP of Sales – he had been in several previous shoots for Gong.  After some back and forth with his agent and the Screen Actors Guild, we locked him down.

The crew took more effort to assemble, especially the director of photography.  The DP is key to any shoot, but for a challenging piece like this, we had to make sure we landed the right talent.

One sad side note here, we spoke with several DPs and their agents about the role, and Halyna Hutchins was our top choice.  She ultimately couldn’t fly up to Oakland because of her schedule but we had hoped to work with her on a different project in the future.

Fortunately, we were able to work with another top talent, Spenser Nottage.  Without him and the amazing crew we put together, we couldn’t have pulled off all the visual gags, at least not efficiently.  

What was it like to produce a Super Bowl Commercial?

Shoot and Post Production

The set was just as important as everything else – every scene had to look like a different location, but we only had one shoot day.  So it had to be a place with multiple interesting locales.  It also needed to look modern and open.  After several scouts, we rented a co-op office building in Oakland.

Every shoot has some bumps, but this one was smooth sailing.  Seriously, I wish I could write more about the shoot – but the only tense moment was in the morning when we had a last-minute wardrobe change and a PA and I had to find a pair of jeans at eight in the morning.   I’ve been on productions where the entire cast of background actors threatened to walk out and where our lead actor had a major emotional collapse on set.  We always expect something to happen on set, and try to prepare for it as much as we can, but this Super Bowl shoot was the most drama-less shoot we’ve experienced.  That’s the importance of securing top talent and crew, and having an experienced director and leadership who can manage it all.

Post production was also fast and efficient.  It always helps that our director is directly involved with the editing.  

Huge Success!

It may seem very risky for a B2B to invest in a Super Bowl spot but Gong broke all their records for pipeline creation in one week after it aired.

And another reason we know this was a hit?  When someone does a parody of it.  Not exactly SNL but we’ll take it.

What was it like to produce a Super Bowl Commercial?

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