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Why Having a Spot on the Super Bowl Was the Best - and Worst - Thing to Happen to Me


Barkley's ECD Jason Elm on his experiences from Super Bowl fame to becoming 'the Smashmouth of advertising'

Why Having a Spot on the Super Bowl Was the Best - and Worst - Thing to Happen to Me

From age 15 I knew I wanted to make TV commercials. Most of all, I wanted to have a commercial run on the Super Bowl. To follow in the footsteps of Coke and Mean Joe Green, Apple’s 1984, and, yes, even Pepsi and Michael J Fox. It was my measure of life’s success and my ultimate career goal.

Nearly 20 years later, the advertising gods made it rain on me with not just one spot on the Super Bowl, but three. All in the same broadcast, for three different clients: a Super Bowl hat trick! One spot was the highest-rated car ad of the game, another was voted “Best ad of the game” by CBS, and the third ranked in the bottom 20 percent of the USA Today ad meter. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad, right?

Monday after the game, I returned to my desk and opened the drawer. There was no stack of hundred dollar bills in there, no fat bonus check, no letter of congratulations from Governor Schwarzenegger. I was the same chubby, bald copywriter I was the Friday before. And it was time to get back to work: I had a table tent to write for TGI Friday’s.

It would be thirteen years until I’d have another spot air on the game — a Missouri Lottery spot that only ran in Missouri – and those years were like a long, flat drive through the desert on the way to a puddle under a palm tree.

See, after the triple, I thought I’d surely be back on the big game with bigger and better ads every year. Nope. But my agency did make a splash almost every year, with Chevy ads and Taco Bell ads and that “Mini Darth Vader” spot. For which, before the game, we had an all-agency meeting where everyone got a t-shirt that said, “I work at the agency that made the Little Darth Vader Super Bowl ad.” Yeah, that didn’t really help.

My mom would call me every year and ask “You have any commercials on the Super Bowl, Jas? That FedEx one, that seemed like your sense of humor...was that yours?” No, mom, it wasn’t.

My friends in advertising would ask, too. After a few years they stopped asking. I even baited them with this Facebook post: “Why, yes, I did have an ad run during the Super Bowl. It was this Pop Secret banner that ran on” 

Three big hits in one year, then nary a sniff of the Super Bowl since — I felt like the Smashmouth of advertising. There’s got to be a quote somewhere that says something like, “nothing can make you feel like a failure as much as sudden success.” If not, there should be, or, there it is. You’re welcome.

But really, measuring myself against a flashpoint year in which I got lucky — yes, lucky — isn’t fair. Because there are so many things that affect whether a spot becomes famous or not, or whether you ever get a swing at the Super Bowl in the first place. 

It took some years, but today I’m cool with that. Since then I’ve mentored creatives who’ve gone on to produce their own Super Bowl spots, who’ve won an Emmy, and who’ve had an audience with the President of the United States (the former one — the good one — not this one). I’m long past measuring myself against that old yardstick.

It’s been said that what drives us can also take us down, right? I’m glad it didn’t, and I just want to keep paying it forward. Stories for over beers now. Hallway chats. Lectures. Online columns. Hand-wringing over saying something smart about Super Bowls. 

Thanks for reading. And look for our Wingstop Instagram posts Sunday during “the big game.” 

Jason Elm is Executive Creative Director at Barkley

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Genres: People

Barkley, Fri, 03 Feb 2017 10:48:56 GMT