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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The stunt driver who brought his Cadillac truck to a stop just inches from the edge of a California pier in Bridgestone's 30-second spot, "Whale of a Tale," which aired during the second quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, was one of only two in America willing to man the stunt. To get the shot, there were no wires or cables of any kind to keep the vehicle from careening over the edge, and a diving team was stationed in the event the truck plunged into the ocean.
It was a risky proposition, but precisely what the tire manufacturer was looking for in a Super Bowl commercial. "Humor is very important, but every spot has to get the message across that tires deliver performance and are enabling whatever is going on in the ad," said Phil Pasci, VP-consumer marketing for Bridgestone's consumer tire sales.
While huge marketers such as PepsiCo dropped out and legacy ones such as FedEx and General Motors didn't come back, Bridgestone returned to the big game in 2010 -- the final year in a three-year, estimated $10 million deal its ad agency, Dallas-based Richards Group, persuaded it to ink as a means to goose sales of the brand. The tire maker took over from Pepsi as the halftime sponsor three Super Bowls ago.
The Super Bowl is Madison Avenue's biggest remaining TV ad showcase, which means at most agencies, the commercials are the domain of only the senior-most creatives. At the Richards Group, it's a more democratic process whereby the agency opens up the idea widely.
Ad Age watched the process, sitting in on meetings with Bridgestone executives and Richards Group creatives and account team members. In one such meeting in October, the group had just returned from shooting both Super Bowl spots in Avila Beach, Calif., and Valley of Fire in Nevada State Park. It took about two weeks total to get the footage needed for "Whale of a Tale" and "Your Tires or Your Life," the second Super Bowl spot, which appeared in the third quarter. (The third spot, "GPS," will appear on TV later this year).
Learning from previous mistakes
To untrained eyes, the ads were blurry, dark and muffled. It was tough to imagine how the spots would come to fruition, but glancing over at Bridgestone's top marketers, Mr. Pasci and Michael Fluck, no beads of sweat were evident -- a far cry from their nerve-wracking first Super Bowl appearance in 2008.
"It was not a pleasant timeline in year one," said Mr. Fluck, Bridgestone's brand-retail marketing director. Work on that first Super Bowl campaign began in the late fall, but after that experience, Glenn Dady, creative director of the Richards Group, realized it was necessary to start the process far earlier, in the spring.
Advance planning is what Bridgestone and Richards Group said allows them to secure an all-star team of producers and animators who are in high demand for Super Bowl: This year, its ads were directed by Dante Ariola, known for his cinematic spots for Johnnie Walker and Coca-Cola; they were produced by MJZ (named Production Company of the Year by Ad Age sibling Creativity), and Method studios handled visual effects.
Bridgestone also learned the hard way that the art of the Super Bowl commercial in the social-media age has benefits and drawbacks. Last year, while in the midst of shooting a commercial called "Limo Ride," a cast member shared details from the shoot on her personal blog. That incident taught the marketer to strengthen non-disclosure agreements and give explicit instructions to cast and crew to make sure no information about the commercials leaks out onto Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere before Bridgestone wants it to. Even internally at the company, only a handful of executives are privy to the content of the spots. There are no hard copies.
At the same time, the marketer is using social media to build buzz and capture viewers who watch the ads online.
"After the first year, we learned there was an awful lot of coverage to be gained before the Super Bowl, so [we] have gone out with different timing by releasing teasers and talking about the spots," said Mr. Pasci. "But we never give away the whole spot or punchline."
Bridgestone says the $10 million Super Bowl deal is well worth the payoff. As official halftime sponsor, Bridgestone is given free airtime for the two spots in the game; has its brand touted during playoff games and in NFL-related advertising; and gets 100 tickets to the game for key executives and dealers.
"We really are more focused on measuring brand awareness and purchase intent rather than traditional ROI," Mr. Fluck said. "Since we began our relationships, our unaided brand awareness and purchase intent measures are up significantly, while our closest competitors are down."
Oh, and yes: "Bridgestone brand tire sales are also up." In fact, the company's market share saw a double-digit spike in the first quarters of 2008 and 2009.
A timeline of Bridgestone's adsThe two 30-second Bridgestone spots that flashed before 100 million viewers of the Super Bowl XLIV broadcast were the product of a nine-month long process, beginning in May 2009.
MAY 2009: Nearly 75 art directors and writers at Richards Group start coming up with concepts for Super Bowl ideas, yielding 212 possible ideas for Bridgestone.
MID-JULY 2009: Staffers at Richards whittle down the list to the 12 best ideas to present to Bridgestone, from which the marketer selects its favorite three to be produced into full-length commercials.
AUGUST 2009: The top three ideas have gone out to bid to commercial directors and production houses. LATE SEPTEMBER 2009: TV shoots on location in California and Nevada.
OCTOBER 2009: Several weeks of editing the work from the shoots begin. Rough cuts of the work are presented to Bridgestone for feedback.
NOVEMBER 2009: Post-production on the commercials.
LATE DECEMBER 2009: Finished spots are presented to Bridgestone.
JANUARY 12, 2010: Big Bridgestone meeting involving top executives during which the two spots to appear in the Super Bowl are chosen. The placement of those spots is also decided.
LATE JANUARY 2010: Facebook and YouTube content to promote the commercials is uploaded; teasers of the spot are released to build anticipation for the spots.