In the world of sport, momentum is crucial. There’s a psychological battle which plays out across every season, every tournament, and every game which can prove just as important as skill on the field in determining winners and losers.
Perhaps less dramatically - but still with plenty of high stakes - the same can be true for those advertising on the day of the big game. There’s a unique cultural aspect to marketing on huge occasions such as the Super Bowl, and the momentum or cadence of your ad can often decide whether it's a hit or a miss. In that respect, it’s no surprise that a brilliantly-executed edit is so important.
That’s a challenge with which Biff Butler, editor and partner at Work Editorial, is utterly familiar. As well as having built up a rich experience working on Super Bowl spots himself, Biff has also picked up awards for iconic sports ads including Nike’s ‘Enjoy the Chase’ and Adidas’ ‘Superstar’. He’s also developed a rich understanding of how to edit for important cultural moments, having edited the music video for will.i.am’s musical adaptation of Barack Obama’s earth-shattering ‘Yes We Can’ speech in 2009.
Here, Biff reflects on why those meaningful events can change an editor’s approach to their work - and how to create a cut which lives up to the occasion.
Looking back on his career to date, Biff confesses to being his own harshest critic. “Generally with every piece of work I do, I’ll ask myself whether I honestly find it engaging. If not, then the job isn’t done”, he says. “Even if you might not personally be in the target demographic for an ad, it’s important as an editor that whatever you’re working on can hold your own interest. I’ll ask myself whether a joke is really landing, or if there are any awkward moments. I have to make sure that I’m winning my own approval”.
But when it comes to advertising for big occasions, that approach can change. “With the Super Bowl, for example, the dynamic is different. This isn’t an audience whose attention you need to grab, because it’s already there. You do have a bit more space to play with”, he notes. “That might make it sound easier - but it isn’t! Expectations are high and you’ll want to deliver at least one truly memorable moment. That changes your priorities as an editor”.
On that point about having more space to play with, Biff explains in more detail about how this changes the equation for editors. “In the past we've worked on ads for the NFL which run right before the game, in the stadium. What’s unique about that is that these ads are designed to play both on people’s TV sets at home, as well as in the stadium on the day. It’s half-commercial and half hype video for the stadium audience”, he says. “So that’s why you need to put a bit more air into the ads, because you must allow for those moments where an audience is just turning its attention towards a screen or when - you hope - they might be applauding”
Ultimately, it’s the ability to tap into that sense of occasion which makes those big-ticket adverts so rewarding - both for an editor and a client. “The irony is that you might associate Super Bowl ads with being louder and flashier than everything else out there”, says Biff, “but in reality it's one of those few situations where you can afford to be quieter because the audience’s attention is already there. That’s extremely rare to find - if it even exists at all elsewhere”.
Because of that unique sense of occasion, are there certain brands for whom advertising on a day like the Super Bowl might seem like more of a natural fit, and others who we wouldn’t expect to see? According to Biff, there’s potential for every brand to make its mark.
“Any brand can make it their own”, he says. “My take is that if you zoomed out and looked at what was playing year-by-year, you’ll have a good notion of where we are as a culture”, he says. “Brands which lean into humour can always find success with the Super Bowl. Look at the FTX ad with Larry David from this year. Crypto brands were kind of a new trend for this year, but that felt like such a Super Bowl ad to me with its dry humour and a famous face to go along with it. So yes, any brand can succeed with the right approach”.
Above: Larry David’s doubtful turn in FTX’s ‘Don’t Be Like Larry’ is a perfect example of a new brand finding a natural home as part of Super Bowl tradition.
Another brand category that has opened up in recent years has been electric vehicles. “You might typically think of big petrol-powered trucks dominating the space around the Super Bowl”, he says, “but in recent years it’s been more likely to be electric vehicles. This year our own Neil Smith edited the fantastic Chevy ad with the Sopranos intro. Again, that felt instinctively Super Bowl - you had this brilliant ‘oh shit’ moment with the iconic song and imagery, combined with a nod to what’s happening in society more broadly. Still selling big trucks, but in a way that makes sense for 2022”.
Above: Chevrolet’s Super Bowl ad played on the iconic Sopranos intro to deliver its message of ‘a new truck for a whole new generation”.
Reflecting on the campaigns he edited himself, it doesn’t take Biff long to pick one which stands out strongly in his memory.
“I’ll always remember ‘Next 100’ for the NFL itself”, he says. “It was shot over such a long period of time that it was only late in the process that we really saw it come together in such a rewarding way. But the remarkable thing was that we used footage taken on the day of the game itself for the end of the ad. I was literally sat in the stadium with my laptop making the final edit and exporting it for use across socials and TV, and we pulled it off”.
Above: ‘Next 100’ won plaudits for the way it successfully transitioned from an advert to live footage of Super Bowl LIV itself.
Ultimately, however, Biff believes that the most vital ingredient to a successful Super Bowl spot is trust. “There’s an enormous amount of trust which these creative teams put into you as an editor, and perhaps the most important part of your job is demonstrating to them why that trust is well-placed”, he says. “That means having integrity in yourself and belief in your own creative voice as part of the process. If you get that right, you’ve got every chance of cutting an ad as memorable as the day itself”.