That is until one of my clever lawyer friends turned the tables on me and said, "Forget football, the real question is can you be a great ad guy if you never have a commercial in the Super Bowl?"
At the time, I didn't really know how to answer. And since I've never had a spot in the Super Bowl, I quickly volunteered to get another round of beers. As I retreated to the refrigerator, I thought about the analogy. The Super Bowl is definitely our industry's biggest stage. To the average consumer, it's far more high-profile than Cannes, the One Show, or the Clios. But is it truly indicative of a great career or even a great year? Does a single 30-second spot trump my stats from last year? I had a solid season: 3,472 campaign attempts, 117 different projects, 29 different categories, 4 television spots, 12 print ads, 6 radio spots, 75% success rate in ASI testing -- plus 36 special team projects, 67 overtime assignments and 9 all-nighters.
After a few minutes of deliberation and several pigs in a blanket, I returned to the game with a lengthy response. I began by asking if Bill Bernbach ever made a Super Bowl spot. No. Did Howard Gossage? No. How about Mary Wells? Nope. But they all had Hall of Fame careers. Right? My friends' eyes rolled. Of course, they had no clue who these people were. To them, they were all average Joes.
I pressed on. "Do you guys have any idea how many television spots are produced each year?," I asked. Again there was no response. So I made up a number. "Last year over 347,000 commercials were shot. Which means over 5,000,000 television concepts were presented to clients. So what are the chances out of all the assignments in the advertising universe that a copywriter like me ends up selling one measly little Super Bowl spot?" Again, there wasn't a word.
I continued with my monologue. Having a spot on the Super Bowl could definitely make a career, but not necessarily break a career. I passionately explained that it if it weren't for the Super Bowl, the world may never have been treated to Apple's "1984," which was perhaps the single greatest commercial ever and easily the greatest Super Bowl commercial ever. We also would have never seen 10-year-old boys fantasize about a Pepsi instead of Cindy Crawford, or been amused by the antics of frogs, lizards, lobsters, or whatever animal Budweiser breaks out this year. On the other hand, I continued, there have been countless ads that have made it to the big game and completely bombed. Think of all the idiotic dot-com ads for just a second. Nevertheless, the people who created these duds generally managed to convince their clients that it was a brilliant media buy. And if that didn't work, they got them so drunk at the game that their clients forgot the whole fiasco.
When I finally came up for air, I realized no one was listening. Instead, they were now playing with my friend's new TiVo -- a device that will certainly have a far greater impact on my career than having or not having a spot in the Super Bowl. Still, it was a sobering moment. At age 34, I've shot some great campaigns for blue-chip clients and I plan to continue on that path. But unless I get a commercial in the Super Bowl, it won't mean much to my friends outside the industry.
As I looked up at the television, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd ever make it to the big game. That is until I noticed my 18-month-old son, Ty, drooling and doodling on a pad as Peyton Manning tried to move his team downfield. And I thought to myself, you know Archie Manning never made it, but it looks like his son Peyton might get there one day. So maybe there is hope. Twenty-five years from now, Ty just might get a spot in the Super Bowl for both of us. Assuming there are still commercials.
Dan Cohen is an associate creative director at J. Walter Thompson/New York.