Tina Fey clutched a red rose in her high school yearbook photo. Amy Adams just couldn't seem to keep her hair out of her face in hers. And Jimmy Kimmel, dressed in a clown-size bow tie and bright blue suit jacket, held on to a clarinet as a baby-faced member of his high school jazz band.
We know only this because of Honda's funny and charming Super Bowl ad, in which younger versions of nine A-list celebrities spring from the pages of their yearbooks. The rest of the cast includes Steve Carell, Viola Davis, Missy Elliott, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Stan Lee and Robert Redford.
The 60-second spot by Honda agency of record RPA was released today to coincide with "Throwback Thursday," the weekly social media phenomenon that celebrates all things retro. Honda has arranged for some of the ad's stars to interact with fans today on social media. On Sunday, the spot will air in the first ad break of the game's second quarter.
The ad, which is part of the automaker's long-running "Power of Dreams" campaign, is meant to plug the all-new 2017 Honda CR-V as the SUV celebrates its 20th anniversary.
"We are hoping that a lot of people jump on that bandwagon and post their own yearbook photos to kind of help us get this message out," said Susie Rossick, assistant-VP for Honda auto marketing.
Honda considered a variety of ad concepts but landed on the yearbook idea because it hit on the theme of "always chase your dream and never give up," Ms. Rossick said. The first-generation CRV appeared on the Super Bowl in 1997. The 2017 edition is "a culmination of our engineers and our designers dreams," she added. "It all just fell into place."
She credited RPA Executive Creative Director Jason Sperling for passionately pushing the concept because it had potential for extensions beyond the TV ad, like the Throwback Thursday execution.
"There were a few ideas we were looking at, and there was a long discussion about what was right and would hit on the car, hit on the brand, hit on the emotion we wanted," Mr. Sperling said. "At the end of the day, you don't want to be in the Super Bowl if you don't have something that feels brave and is going to stand out."
The agency had an interesting strategy when it came to casting. It approached the four main Hollywood talent agencies with the idea and budget, and the company who put the best group forward would get their stars in the spot. In the end, WME delivered the winning lineup. "It actually became a really difficult choice, because there were so many incredible names they put together," Mr. Sperling said. "It ultimately came down to who felt right and how we were expressing the best diversity in terms of gender, profession, age."
A late addition, however, was Viola Davis, who's repped by CAA. "I had gone to an early screening of 'Fences,' and just had a feeling she was going to be talked about for the Oscars, which is just a few weeks away, so adding her just felt right," Mr. Sperling said.
Once talent was secured, the agency obtained their old pictures, which were then placed into practical shots of real yearbooks -- collected from various staffers at RPA, the spot's production/postproduction company and Honda.
The biggest hurdle was making them come alive. "All we had were photos, and some weren't even hi-res," Mr. Sperling said. "One of the biggest challenges was that it's a dialog-driven piece, but it's also an effects-driven piece. It was really hard determining, do we want a performance director, or do we want an effects pro who made sure no one looks creepy. We wanted to make sure people got the feels at the end of it."
The agency got both in director Angus Wall, a multi-skilled talent who's earned two Oscars in editing for "The Social Network" and "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" as well as double Emmys for creating the title sequences of "Game of Thrones" and "Carnivale."
Mr. Sperling explained that making the photos speak was a trial-and-error process that benefited from Mr. Wall's post-production expertise. "There were almost too many layers, from my pedestrian perspective," he said. "We had a 3D camera, witness cams, we had lookalike stand-ins who were basically delivering [the celebrities'] pre-recorded voiceovers."
The production team "had a few 24 hour days," Ms. Rossick said, noting that the team finished the ad on Tuesday night. "As with anything, they are perfectionists. And they wanted to make sure they captured [each] celebrity completely, perfectly."
The stars improvised some of the dialogue. "We would write lines for them and they would work with it," Ms. Rossick said. "I think it was fun for them to take a step back so many years and make a little fun of themselves."
Ms. Fey was "one of the most fun ones," she said. She came up with this idea of, "Why am I holding this rose? Why was I doing that?" Ms. Rossick recalled. "She kind of played with that and she did the line over and over again."
While the celeb yearbook photos are authentic, the shots of their surrounding classmates are not. Instead, Honda and RPA used photos of staffers and their families. For example, Mr. Sterling's photo appears on the far left, in Tina Fey's yearbook. "It wasn't my best hair day," he said.
Mr. Sterling's great aunt and great uncle's photos are in Stan Lee's yearbook, and the husband of an RPA creative director sits to the right of Missy Elliott. Names were changed to make the lineups alphabetical.
The ad will be supported online by homepage takeovers on ESPN, Amazon and Yahoo, according to Honda. After the game, Honda plans to continue the campaign on TV and in out-of-home, radio, print and social media.