Making a Memorable Spot

Three guys are driving like hell in a pickup truck, and that pickup truck has an unusual fourth passenger: a killer whale.

The driver sweats behind the wheel as his front-seat passenger ministers to the whale, which is obviously not all that comfortable out of water. When the pickup reaches a pier stretching into the Pacific Ocean, the driver gases it, and as the edge of the pier nears, he stands on the brakes: The tires catch, and the truck does a long arc that -- beautifully -- deposits the whale into the water.

The whale leaps for joy, and the driver remarks it was one heck of a bachelor party.

A Whale and a Bachelor Party
What was the killer whale doing at the bachelor party? No, not the backstroke for sure, but we don’t know exactly what else. One thing we do know, though, is that the whale spot and the other Bridgestone spot, which aired later in the Super Bowl, were memorable, well-produced and part of a carefully conceived campaign. A look behind the scenes at that campaign gives us insight on how savvy marketers spend their ad money these days. We recently got the chance to talk with Bridgestone America’s chief marketing executive, Phil Pasci, who made it clear that advertising on the Super Bowl is more than ponying up a few million dollars.

“What we’re looking for is a way to increase our brand awareness and to get people to understand that Bridgestone is a tire manufacturer that makes unique tires,” Pasci told us. “Football is really in everybody’s DNA. With the NFL, football isn’t just a fall sport; it actually starts in the early spring with the new prospects going to the combine, then you go for the draft, go into a training camp, and finally, the season begins. So football is essentially year-round.”

Two Ads and a Half-time Show
Because of the prevalence of football, three years ago Bridgestone decided to increase its profile by running ads in the Super Bowl and sponsoring the Super Bowl half-time show. As Pasci told us, most people watch the Super Bowl for three reasons: Commercials are No. 1, half-time entertainment is No. 2, and then of course, there’s the actual football game. Running ads and sponsoring the high-profile half-time show is a multimillion dollar expense, so Bridgestone approaches it methodically.

“They certainly are big decisions, and we have a very good agency that we work with in The Richards Group, in Dallas,” says Pasci. “They give us a lot of insight, but we have a very core management team at Bridgestone that works on the Super Bowl programming and advertising. I believe in the past three years we have refined the process.”

Staying Ahead of the Game
For Bridgestone, the countdown to yesterday’s Super Bowl began in July. Of course, its ad agency began refining ad concepts well before that. And in 2009, more than 100 concepts were created before the agency narrowed it down to 12 for presentation to Bridgestone execs. Bridgestone then winnowed that list down to three. When the lengthy TV shoots were over, The Richards Group delivered exactly on what they had promised, says Pasci. But being memorable isn’t enough for Bridgestone.

“That’s the other key point,” says Pasci. “We’re a tire company -- we're not a soft goods company, we're not a soft drink company. The consumer product we have is not really high-interest category. In the Super Bowl, we want to get our message across that Bridgestone tires are different. We want to showcase the performance of our tires in any spot, so a pretty big challenge for the agency is to create something that hasn't been done before that’s different, that's funny, and to showcase the performance of the tires.”

Proof in the Pudding?
Actually, no. The proof is in the day-after audience reaction, which is already running very heavily in favor of the killer whale spot as well as the futuristic “Your tires or Your Life” spot (which plays off an old joke in a very 22nd-century way). Seeing both and getting an insight into the behind-the-scenes ruminations that went into them leaves no doubt that Bridgestone is getting great bang for its buck, even on a challenging environment like the Super Bowl.