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In a year when Super Bowl ads secured as much as $7 million for a 30-second spot and sold out 10 days before the game, brands had to come up with creative ways to be a part of the action if they couldn’t actually be there.

Take, for instance, Hyundai.

“Our client Hyundai [wasn’t going] to be in the Super Bowl, but we came up with an interesting way to be in the Super Bowl, without being in the Super Bowl,” Anya Liddiard said.

If the metaverse is real, then Liddiard’s first Super Bowl ad did run this year. Only it ran in a universe where the Johnsons from ABC-TV’s “Black-ish” are real. And the ad wasn’t created by Liddiard and her colleagues at Innocean, but by Dre Johnson and his fictional firm Stevens & Lido.

Innocean worked with ABC to integrate Hyundai’s new, fully electric IONIQ 5 into the show’s season eight episode “The Natural,” which aired Jan. 11. “We knew we had an opportunity with the ‘Black-ish’ show but didn’t know how it would come to life and which vehicle we would feature,” Liddiard said. “When the decision was made to skip the Super Bowl this year, the time was right for this opportunity. Our media partners thought that it would be nice to leverage Dre’s advertising career and his career struggles to develop a winning Super Bowl ad for Hyundai IONIQ 5.”

Liddiard briefed ABC’s team on the key elements of the strategy and creative for the actual Innocean campaign and shared three key features they wanted highlighted: reverse charging, fast charging and digital key.

“I am very pleased where they landed and how well they delivered on this assignment,” she said. “When I read the line where Dre says, ‘My journey is evolving,’ I knew we succeeded.”

Shaw Schiappacasse and Haley Schrenk of 360i worked on a Twitter campaign for TUMS that aired simultaneously with the game. Scott Rogowsky, host and founder of the HQ mobile trivia game hosted TUMSworthy Big Game Trivia on Twitter during the game. Schiappacasse wrote the questions, which all dealt with things that make you reach for TUMS. With a grand prize of $56,000 and four additional prizes of $8,000, Schiappacasse expected some significant play.

“If we’re doing anything like HQ numbers were back in the day, then we’re definitely anticipating in the tens of thousands [of participants], if not [more].”

Advertisers who actually got a primo spot during the game included 14 featuring work by 20 Brandcenter alumni.

‘Zeus & Hera’

Sam Dworkin and Mike Rodriguez, who brought us the Cool Ranch Doritos commercial featuring the western dance-off between Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott in 2020, wanted to go big with a blockbuster feel this year for the new all-electric BMW IX.

“It’s kind of like a movie in one minute,” Rodriguez said. “We have Arnold Schwarzenegger and Salma Hayek. A lot of really epic visual effects. It doesn’t look like an ad for the first 45 seconds. It looks more like a movie trailer or something.”

The spot features the Hollywood megastars as the Greek gods Zeus and Hera as they retire from Mount Olympus and move to Palm Springs, California. The god of lightning is disappointed with everything electric on Earth until his wife discovers something that can match even Zeus’ power: the BMW electric vehicle.

Schwarzenegger posted a movie-style poster on Instagram a few weeks ago, without much text or details. With no real context, viewers were left to wonder if it was a teaser for a new movie or TV show.

‘Can I Get Uhhhhh …’

It’s a moment all of us know too well, said Chane Rennie of Wieden + Kennedy New York: Pulling up to the fast-food drive-thru or counter and being struck by indecision.

That universal experience led to the company’s “Can I Get Uhhhhh” spot for McDonald’s.

The idea was born from lots of hard work, ridiculous suggestions, a bit of luck and an extremely talented team, Rennie said. “We’ve also seen this scenario meme’d across the internet and riffed on our owned social channels, so we knew there was existing interest and that our fans ‘got’ the joke.”

Brandcenter prepared Rennie for this career “by kicking our asses early, but in a space of psychological safety where you can suggest dumb, silly things and people don’t look at you funny,” he said. “Caley Cantrell taught me everything I know. She did that by never giving a straight, conclusive answer to a question, but always provoking new ways to think of the question. There are no correct answers in brand strategy, so learning how to get comfortable with uncertainty is essential.”

This is Rennie’s first appearance in the Super Bowl, which is a little daunting.

“I’m used to people seeing my work, but I’m not sure I’m prepared for everyone and their grandmother turning into an ad critic for a day,” he said. But he hopes viewers “see themselves in the ad. McDonald’s is a brand that almost every single person in the country has some form of relationship with. This ad is about that.”

‘High Stakes’

Tom Coates knows the secret to a winning Super Bowl ad.

“You can’t have a successful big-game spot without a memorable animal appearance,” he said.

The spot for Rakuten, filmed in an old mansion in the London countryside, also features Hannah Waddingham from “Ted Lasso.”

“We wanted to create a clear win-lose scenario and after several iterations arrived at a high-stakes poker game where the participants are betting products instead of chips. Our hero defeats the supervillain played by Hannah because not only does she have the products, she also has the cash back she got from buying them with Rakuten.”

The strategy behind “High Stakes” was to show that shoppers always win with Rakuten rewards because they get cash back shopping at more than 3,000 stores they love.

The idea was developed completely in-house with a lean internal team of former agency folks of which Coates is the group creative director and writer.

Coates has been involved with a few Super Bowl ads over the years, but it’s always an exciting, nerve-wracking experience, he said.

“Being on advertising’s biggest stage ups the stakes, adds more pressure and makes it a bit more thrilling,” he said. “Brandcenter had its own pressure-packed moments and helped me define for myself what it meant to do good work.”

In particular, Coates credits professors such as Jerry Torchia for getting rid of the nonessential, Jelly Helm for bringing yourself to your work and breaking free from the expected, and Peter Coughter for his ability to eat sushi. (And Tom Scharpf for owing him $20.)

Regarding the Super Bowl commercial, “Hopefully folks will enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it, and they’ll start shopping with Rakuten,” Coates said. “And watch ‘Ted Lasso.’ And adopt a pet.”

‘The Call’

During the Pepsi Super Bowl halftime show trailer, Dr. Dre summons the royalty of hip-hop to meet at SoFi Stadium to take on the world’s biggest stage together.

“This was a pretty unconventional production,” said Mark Maziarz, who served as creative director for the spot created by RadicalMedia. “Our team at Radical and the director, F. Gary Gray — ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ ‘The Italian Job,’ ‘Friday’ — worked directly with Pepsi to craft the idea.”

And while this wasn’t Maziarz’s first foray into the Super Bowl, it’s his favorite, he said.

“I’ve had as many non-ad people reach out about this one as ad friends,” said Maziarz, a group creative director at Battery. “That’s always the biggest win for me. … At so many moments of this shoot, I was pinching myself. How is this my job? Especially the night we shot all of them together at SoFi Stadium for the final sequence you see in the trailer.”

‘The Grande Escape’

After a five-year hiatus, Taco Bell returned to the Super Bowl wanting to remind fans of what it means to “Live Más.”

“The spot serves as a story of liberation from conformity and [shows] Doja Cat alongside others who are just simply striving to live más,” said Sara Singh of Deutsch LA.

The spot features Doja Cat’s cover of Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” album, with lyrics tweaked by original singer Courtney Love. Doja Cat leaked the song to her audience live on Instagram and released it as her first crossover single to make sure the spirit of the campaign lived beyond the 30-second ad buy, Singh said.

“It’s an honor to get to be making work at this high level,” Singh said of her first Super Bowl ad. “It’s rare that people are actually paying attention to advertising, and having a captive audience is a blessing.

“Brandcenter does a great job at throwing every scenario at you throughout the 60 weeks you’re there. That’s very similar to how Super Bowl campaigns feel. You never know what’s going to get thrown at you or what hurdles you need to clear. Having that ability built into you through Brandcenter definitely helps keep you calm and level-headed when you face challenges in campaign development.”

‘Colosseum Tailgate’

The strategy for Avocados from Mexico is simple: always good.

“That’s always tasty. Always good for you. Always a good time,” said Neeti Newaskar, group strategist director at GSD&M. “The campaign idea of ‘Addvocados’ leads with the third tenant of that platform —[Avocados from Mexico] sparks the good time, anytime.”

The campaign takes “anytime” to heart as it explores historical periods and settings starting with a “Colosseum Tailgate.” The Super Bowl spot is the first of three in the broader campaign.

“The campaign at its pit — ba dum tsh! — is all about the transformative ability of Avocados from Mexico to turn up the dial on any occasion,” Newaskar said. “Is the idea of a tailgate party set in ancient Rome ridiculous? Absolutely. Was the table slam inspired by [the Buffalo] Bills Mafia? Maybe. Does Andy Richter make for the best-worst Caesar? Obviously. All these shenanigans are very on-tone for a brand that has always been off-beat and never taken itself too seriously.”


Luke Behrends’ fourth Super Bowl ad hit close to home. He hopes viewers take the message to heart: don’t be mean to nurses. His mom, Laurie, is a retired nurse.

The spot for MaineHealth, the largest hospital network in Northern New England, is all about reminding people that a little kindness goes a long way.

“It’s a big important message in a big important game,” said Behrends, whose agency Words From The Woods has been handling MaineHealth’s COVID-19 communications since the start of the pandemic. “Throughout all of this, MaineHealth nurses and care teams have been on the front lines and it’s been exhausting for them. But for some reason, a lot of patients these days are coming in hot and entitled and mean and rude.

“Nursing used to be one of the most liked and trusted professions. Now it’s flipped. And all they’ve done this whole time is try to help.”

Behrends worked on past Super Bowl ads for Tide and Budweiser as well as last year’s MaineHealth ad.

“They’ve all been different, but that feeling you get when you see them on screen during the big game is the same,” he said.

Brandcenter at VCU alumni helped create these Super Bowl LVI ads:

Allie Carr (2018)

Erich & Kallman, San Francisco



Sam Dworkin (2018)

Mike Rodriguez (2018)

Goodby Silverstein & Partners

BMW (electric vehicles)


Sara Singh (2018)

Deutsch LA

Taco Bell


Chane Rennie (2016)

Lauren Acampora (2019)

Sean Johnson (2019)

Wieden + Kennedy New York



Emily Adamson (2020)

NBCUniversal Media

Peacock Network


David Povill (2003)

BBDO Los Angeles

AT&T (regional spot)


Neeti Newaskar (2008)

GSD&M Austin

Avocados from Mexico


Jay Kamath (2007)

Richard Fischer (2007)

Haymaker Los Angeles



Jimmy Burton (2014)

Donald Kim (2019)

Anomaly Los Angeles

Meta Quest


Mark Maziarz (2003)


Pepsi halftime show trailer


Luke Behrends (2007)

Words From The Woods

MaineHealth (regional spot)

Alyson Gaiser (2018)

Josh Perry (2019)

GSD&M Austin

Pizza Hut (pregame)


Tom Coates (1999)

Rakuten (in-house)



Jerry Hoak (2005)

The Martin Agency

Busch beer

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