NEW YORK—The stunt driver who brought his Cadillac truck to a stop just inches from the edge of a California pier in Bridgestone Americas' 30-second spot, “Whale of a Tale,” which aired during Super Bowl XLIV, was one of only two in America willing to attempt 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 Nashville, Tenn.-based 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, vice president of consumer marketing for Bridgestone's consumer tire sales.
While huge marketers such as PepsiCo Inc. dropped out and legacy ones such as FedEx Corp. and General Motors Co. didn't come back this year, Bridgestone returned to the big game in 2010.
Its effort was the final year in a three-year, estimated $10 million deal its ad agency, Dallas-based Richards Group, persuaded the company 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.
Advertising Age, a sister publication of Rubber & Plastics News, 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. A third spot, “GPS,” will appear on TV later this year.
Learning from past 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—Pasci and Michael Fluck—no beads of sweat were evident. That was a far cry from their nerve-wracking first Super Bowl appearance in 2008.
“It was not a pleasant timeline in year one,” said 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 the 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 Pasci. “But we never give away the whole spot or punchline.”
Bridgestone said 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 tire dealers.
“We really are more focused on measuring brand awareness and purchase intent rather than traditional ROI (return on investment),” 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,” he noted.