Don't Let Your Big Fat Budget Ruin Your Super Bowl Commercial

Mischief maker Kevin Mulroy explains all

Which brand will take home the 2024 Super Clio for the best Super Bowl commercial? We'll find out on Feb. 12. (Mischief's "Rabbit Holes" for Tubi took the honor last year.)

If you have the chance to work on a Super Bowl commercial, I highly recommend it. It's the closest most of us will get to feeling like a professional athlete, because it's the one chance you have in your career for 115 million people to point at your work and say, "that sucked."

The Super Bowl could be the biggest budget you get for a project in your whole career. Which is awesome and super helpful for everything except the idea. 

I'm not saying I don’t like working with a big budget. I just mean it won’t help you get to a better idea. In fact, it might make it worse.

Tubi | Interface Interruption

Super Bowl is the one thing our parents and their sassy movie club text chains understand about our jobs. So the stakes are high.

But not nearly as high as the stakes for our clients, who are (very understandably) terrified to spend the equivalent of Sly Stallone’s Hidden Hills estate on a 30-second commercial viewed during watch parties awash in beers, room temperature meats and nagging bladders.

The problem with a huge budget is that it comes with massive amounts of fear, scrutiny, stress and the opinion of that guy who did that one thing that one time in the '90s.

Which lures you into thinking from the outside in: Which celebrity can we get? What song can we license? How many talking animals are too many? Let's check Taika Waititi's avails.

If you don't feel like reading Rick Rubin's book on creativity (you should, and I've heard he narrates his own audio book and it's mesmerizing), here's one overarching theme: Trying to come up with something you think the audience will like is the fastest way to make something the audience will not like.  

Why? Because what the audience actually wants is the best possible execution of a great idea–something you really love, not a focus-grouped celebrity-fest with or without Will Ferrell. What people actually want is something simple, insightful, (sometimes) weird, (sometimes) funny and, I'd argue, most of all, unexpected. 

At Mischief, we have a two-step process for developing ideas: 1). What are we trying to say? and 2). What's the most interesting way to say it? The problem with your ginormous budget is it can make you think the process should be different for the Super Bowl. But it's not.

Let's look at three recent examples, none of which were ruined by a big, fat, potentially idea-ruining budget. 

"It’s a Tide Ad" 2018

You don't even have to rewatch this campaign to remember what it was saying: Tide cleans clothes. To me, the best line of an impeccably executed idea was, "So, does that make every Super Bowl ad ... a Tide ad?" Now, every spot in the Big Game that's not for laundry detergent is a letdown. Did they need Stranger Things actor David Harbour to be in those ads? He's great. But no, they didn't. Did you remember his name is David Harbour? No, you didn't.

Chrysler, "Born of Fire" (aka "Imported from Detroit") 2011

This Chrysler spot with Eminem had one of the most well-written scripts I've heard in the last decade. What was their point? Detroit makes cars. Then they wrote a script that's so good it made me mad, and made all of America, for exactly 60 seconds, go "Fuck yeah! America is Detroit!" Which is not an easy thing to do. Is this idea a million times better with Eminem? Of course it is, but that's the power of an intentional and thoughtful use of a celebrity (and the incredibly tasteful choice of using just the intro to "Lose Yourself"). And then an intern was like, "What about a choir at the end?" And they were like, "You got it, kid."

Tubi, "Interface Interruption" 2023

Hey look at that, one of our own commercials made the list! We got to the idea with a simple realization: the product is also a product demo. Yes, we had celebrities, but they were Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen, the actual announcers for the game. We used them to make it look like the broadcast had returned from the commercial break, only to have someone switch from the Super Bowl to Tubi, casually stroll titles, and land on Mr. and Mrs. Smith. My favorite anecdote from that spot is that we made 500 people in a Vegas betting room crane their necks to see whose dog sat on the remote.

Again, and I can't emphasize this enough: I like big juicy budgets, too. I'm just less fond of the budget leading the idea, as opposed to the other way around. I’d also like to go on record as saying that I'd still like to work with Will Ferrell. And let’s check Taika Waititi's avails, just in case.

CLICK HERE to watch all of this year's Super Bowl commercials as they're released. 

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Kevin Mulroy
Kevin Mulroy, ECD and partner at Mischief @ No Fixed Address.

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