Feb. 12, 2024
In the rarefied airtime of Super Bowl ads, VCU Brandcenter alums get plenty of attention
From a genie in a (beer) bottle to a cookie twist, more than two dozen graduates of the renowned graduate program put their creative spins on this year’s spots.
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Chris Colliton and Kevin Weir are no strangers to the world of Super Bowl ads. The alums of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter made the fake Crocodile Dundee movie for Tourism Australia in 2018. Last year, they partnered with DraftKings to create the High Stakes Beer Ad, the first commercial that viewers could bet on. Both spots were not only memorable but award-winning.
This year, for yesterday’s Super Bowl LVIII, the executive creative directors at Droga5 heralded the heroic return of the Coors Light Chill Train. For years, the brand used the iconic beer train in all of its advertising, but Coors retired its frosty locomotive more than a decade ago.
“We wanted to bring it back in the biggest way possible, on the biggest stage possible – updated for 2024, of course,” Colliton said. “We’ve always loved the Coors Light Beer Train. It’s an iconic part of beer advertising that has a nostalgic magic to it that people and culture love. But we needed the right moment to bring it back ... and we needed to do it in a truly unforgettable way.”
The commercial features the beloved chill train, conducted by legendary rapper LL Cool J, traversing the country leaving cold Coors Lights in its wake. The signature Colliton/Weir twist that makes it unforgettable? “Passengers” who purchased tickets “ride” the train — thanks to CGI.
“All the tickets for the train were scooped up within one minute of being released,” Weir said. “The people who secured seats [were] added into the train using CGI, and then a special, slo-mo version of the ad [was] released on Super Bowl Sunday. This [gives] everyone aboard ultimate bragging rights.”
The train crashes into a house at the end, but that part was mostly real.
“We actually built the house from scratch in a South African warehouse because we needed to destroy it — which we did,” Colliton said. “There was a life-size truck, shaped like a massive train, that we drove through the front door into the living room. We only had one take, which we filmed from three angles. For safety reasons, no one was allowed on set except for the stunt drivers.”
Weir noted that “Super Bowl projects are always very special because you know everyone in the country will be watching. It’s definitely stressful ... but also rewarding if all goes to plan.”
The VCU Brandcenter, a graduate program for advertising and branding, is a breeding ground for future Super Bowl commercial makers. Most workers in the advertising industry never have the chance to work on the high-profile spots, but this year’s Super Bowl featured 20 campaigns that 27 Brandcenter alumni helped create. Here’s a look at some of them.
Selling your home doesn’t have to hurt
Instead of destroying a house, Hannah Hugeback’s ad for Opendoor followed a family as it tried to sell its home during the halftime show — in real time.
“This idea was developed from truths and pain points of selling a house — 40% of Americans say that selling their home was harder than they anticipated, and more than a third actually cried during the process,” Hugeback said. “We wanted to show that Opendoor takes the historically difficult process of selling a home and makes it easy.”
The initial briefing from Opendoor wasn’t to create a Super Bowl spot, but the creative team at mischief — Hugeback’s firm — developed a concept so rich with the opportunity to gain awareness on a mass scale that it elevated the ad to Super Bowl worthiness.
“We’re told to expect the entire home-selling process to suck really bad,” Hugeback said. “So we’re hoping the take-away from our Super Bowl spot is that with Opendoor, it doesn’t have to. So many other facets of our lives have been made easier over the years, so it’s only fair that home selling gets its chance to shine. Opendoor makes selling your home so much easier.”
Come on, baby, let’s do the twist
Eleven years ago, Oreo secured its place in social media history with its viral “Dunk in the Dark“ tweet, a spontaneous reaction to the 2013 Super Bowl blackout. Since then, the cookie giant has embraced its role as a leader in getting playful with how brands show up on social media.
“For the 2024 Super Bowl, we knew we needed to adapt the approach that had made ‘Dunk in the Dark’ so successful to a social landscape that, let’s be real, hardly looks the same as it did in 2013,” said Brianne Johnson, strategy director at Dentsu Creative. “The team knew we couldn’t settle for just another reactive social approach, where brands post sassy and brand-unrelated takes on whatever is happening during the game. Instead, we saw an opportunity to put a social twist on our campaign and turn game day into a social campaign moment of its own.”
As director of integrated strategy and lead strategist for the social campaign and gameday social activation, Johnson and her team worked closely with The Martin Agency – the lead created the spot and included Brandcenter alum Johnny Roelofs. Johnson’s team also worked with PR agency Weber Shandwick as well as Dentsu’s Digital Accelerator, the organic social arm that runs @Oreo accounts.
More than just making a commercial, the project was about creating and spreading a new consumer behavior and a playful way of using Oreo cookies to make decisions.
“Funny enough, you go in thinking that it’s just the ad that matters,” Johnson said, “but it’s really the whole web of different agencies and comms efforts that determine whether the message dies with the spot on game day or lives beyond it. Making a Super Bowl campaign successful is just as much about the foreplay and afterplay, and that’s where social comes in. We got to playfully adapt the spot to new channels and formats … all of which helps us nurture the Oreo ‘twist’ as an actual, playful fan behavior, not just another brand stunt.”
The biggest candy news of all time?
“We wanted to lean into the intense love that fans have for original Reese’s peanut butter cups, so showing their anger and excitement at the big news felt like a no-brainer,” said creative director Jason Goldberg. “We had a few different versions of this construct but landed on the simple “YES!” and “NO!” formula because it led to the most laughs internally.”
If you missed the spot, have no fear. Reese’s is not changing its flagship candy, but it is introducing a version with caramel.
Goldberg offered this behind-the-scenes tidbit: “Getting the dog to hula-hoop was a lot easier than you’d think.”
Wishes? It’s his thing!
When developing the Bud Light spot, art director Adam DuBrueler and his copywriting partner at Anomaly NY asked themselves what would make a night out easier to enjoy. How about a genie who grants all your wishes?
“This was a crazy process that started on a phone call with my partner,” DuBrueler said. “We usually have these chats late at night, and the idea stemmed from a conversation we had in August. The tagline for Bud Light’s newest campaign is ‘Easy to Drink, Easy to Enjoy,’ and then the concept of the genie appeared from that line.”
DuBrueler and his partner approached the project like a film they would like to see. To be worthy of the big game, they tried to go as big as possible, including bringing in celebrities such as former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and rapper-singer Post Malone.
“The Super Bowl is all about going big and making a splash,” DuBrueler said. “This is the only time of year where advertising is being looked forward to, so why not make something memorable and out of the norm?”
Super Bowl ads by Brandcenter alums
Here is the full roster of 20 ad campaigns that 27 VCU Brandcenter alums helped create for this year’s Super Bowl
Chris Trumbull, copywriting, 2010
Apple Marcom internal
Michelle Darnell, creative brand management, 2016
Tim Shumar, copywriting, 2017
Best Buy internal creative group
Tim Gordon, copywriting, 2008
Zulu Alpha Kilo (Canada)
Adam DuBrueler, art direction, 2021
Chris Colliton, experience design, 2012
Kevin Weir, art direction, 2012
Emily Hovis, copywriting, 2016
Anne Marie Wonder, art direction, 2016
Sarah Garman, creative brand management, 2013
Josh Rosen, copywriting, 2002
Google Creative Lab
Lily Fu Ramos, art direction, 2016
Pereira O’Dell, NYC
Joe Nio, strategy, 2000
NFL Sunday Ticket on YouTube TV
Heather Ryder, copywriting, 2010
You Tube Creative Studio (freelancer)
Hannah Hugeback, strategy, 2021
Johnny Roelofs, strategy, 2013
The Martin Agency, RVA
Brianne Johnson, strategy, 2020 (social campaign)
Dentsu Creative, NYC
Pizza Hut (pre-game spot)
Tiff McKee, art direction, 2006
Jay Kamath, art direction, 2007
Karah Smith, strategy, 2022
Will Dean, art direction, 2004
Lyle Yetman, copywriting, 2004
Walt Barron, strategy, 2002
Joshua Browne, copywriting, 2019 (social campaign)
Reese’s peanut butter cups
Jason Goldberg, art direction, 2017
Erich & Kallman, San Francisco
John March, strategy, 2022
Lewis Media Partners, RVA
Jodi Shelley, strategy, 2000
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