How Small Ad Agencies Are Like Super Bowl Commercials

Massive Production Budgets Are Nice, but Simple, Solid Ideas Win the Day

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
Our agency started over a decade ago. Believe it or not, it was the first rating site for Super Bowl commercials. For the past 11 years voting has consistently reinforced what we small agencies have espoused all along: It's not the budget; it's the idea that counts. Simple ideas that make people laugh usually dominate the top 10. Granted some are visual bonanzas, but most don't need eye-candy production to earn top grades.

People love to talk about the commercials. They love to be a part of deciding which are worthy of comment. Super Bowl commercials get scrutiny that no other commercials have to bear. They live in a harsh world, much like small agencies.

Super Bowl commercials and small agencies don't get seen very often. In our case, the limelight falls to bigger agencies with more prominent brands. But like a great Super Bowl spot, one time in the spotlight can be enough to make a small agency a star. If the talent is there, it's like a great TV spot. It won't be forgotten.

Super Bowl spots are custom-made for consumers like small agencies are made for advertisers. Advertisers understand that Super Bowl spots must be entertaining if they are going to be worth the investment. Their spots must be emotionally intimate. It's like small agencies with their clients. I've always felt closer to clients at small agencies than I did working in large ones. Even the clients we have that are large corporations talk to us as if we were family. It's because we stay people.

Super Bowl commercials and small agencies don't cost much. What? Am I daft? No. When you consider the cost per viewer for a Super Bowl commercial, it's one of the cheapest ways to reach the most people. Literally, pennies per person. Likewise, small agencies are efficient. We're nimble and flexible. We get to the point, because we don't have layers of people with time to ponder (and bill) beyond what is necessary.

Super Bowl commercials and small agencies can change culture. A handful of Super Bowl commercials have defined culture. Apple's "1984," is on the top of the proof list. Our industry's most successful agencies all started with the same goal: Be game changers. Sadly, we haven't had an example of that recently, but I know a lot of small agencies that are working to remedy this, so I have faith.

Adbowl is a fun annual project for my agency. It focuses us on the most concentrated effort of our industry to do great work. But it also reminds me that just because we're small doesn't mean we can't be game changers.

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