Super Bowl

What Happens When Small Shops Tackle Big Spots

How Argonaut and Motive Scored With Their Super Bowl Work

By Published on .

You're a small agency and you've caught a huge break -- you've been tapped to create a Super Bowl spot. How much does that affect your culture?

Pretty radically, say shops that have been through it. It can give an agency instant credibility, but it can also add a lot of stress in trying to meet the demands that come with 30 seconds on adland's biggest stage.

Super Bowl work can spark new confidence.
Super Bowl work can spark new confidence. 

"As a small agency and a new agency, this is the opportunity you dream about," said Hunter Hindman, co-chief creative officer at Argonaut, a year-old San Franciso-based agency charged with Volkswagen's Big Game spot this year.

Mr. Hindman and co-creative chief Rick Condos hail from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and were tasked with one of the higher-profile spots, given that it was the follow up to "The Force," a creative superhit from 2011 that remains one of the most shared ads of all time.

They got a shot at the work based on relationships -- the team knew VW's VP-marketing at the time of the pitch, Kevin Mayer, from his days at Chevrolet and the partners did work for the GM brand, including Super Bowl spots. Mr. Mayer gave them 10 days to pitch a spot for VW's Super Bowl effort, and the rest is history. "When VW needed to open up their Super Bowl brief to new minds, that past together paid off," said Mr. Hindman.

The experience of creating a Big Game spot at Argonaut has "strengthened the culture" of the agency by affirming its identity and mission, said Mr. Condos.

There's also functional consequences, because working on the Super Bowl means tight production timelines, with huge budgets at stake. "This is a stress test for the agency," said Mr. Hindman, adding that handling the demands lends Argonaut a level of credibility.

A similar situation played out at Motive, a Denver agency, which (like Argonaut) is owned by Project Worldwide. Motive was signed to co-create, with Mekanism, the Super Bowl Halftime Show for Pepsi.

Motive CEO and Creative Director Matt Statman said that working on Super Bowl ads boosts his team's confidence and "validates" the work they do. He said brands do wonder if smaller shops have the bandwidth to deliver the work -- and it's something he keeps asking himself, too. In fact, once the Super Bowl work was won, Motive turned down another opportunity from Pepsi, fearing it would be too distracting.

Sometimes, a little naivete can show. When Pepsi awarded Motive the job, Mr. Statman promised his team he would take all 12 employees to the game. "Imagine telling someone you need 12 tickets together. They laughed at me," said Mr. Statman.

But the tradeoff is a lasting mark for the agency. "Every [client] we work with now shouldn't question whether we can do it," he said.

And it can mean repeat business. When Audi tapped Venables Bell & Partners to do its first-ever Super Bowl spot in 2008, "it put the agency on the map," said Paul Venables, founder and exec creative director. Venables this year did its seventh Big Game spot for Audi.

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