For advertising professionals, the only fumbles and touchdowns that matter during the Super Bowl this Sunday happen during the commercial breaks. With over 106.5 million viewers expected to tune in, the Super Bowl is a make-or-break event for marketers.
For Erich Pfeifer, it led to a promotion. Pfeifer was made creative director at San Francisco-based advertising agency Venables Bell & Partners in late January 2011, and he attributes the move in part to his success at last year's Super Bowl.
Pfeifer was the assistant creative director in charge of one of his shop's biggest clients: Audi. The spot they created, "Green Car," aired in the fourth quarter of last year's game. It was the second most viewed commercial during the game and with 115.6 million viewers, the second-most viewed commercial in U.S. history.
"It definitely helps your career," said Pfeifer. "Recruiters notice when a brand that did well is on your resume."
When he was named creative director, the statement highlighted his leadership, crediting him with "producing some of the most talked about Super Bowl advertising."
Galen Greenwood, 57, group creative director at Dallas-based agency TracyLocke had worked on "Mosquito," a commercial for Tabasco, the Avery Island, La.-based hot-sauce company. The spot wasn't created explicitly for the Super Bowl and had been running in local markets for over a year. Because it was well-received, it appeared during a break in the 1997 Super Bowl, which coincided with a time when Greenwood, who was then with DDB Dallas, was also thinking about switching companies.
"I was looking for other places to go to," he said. Greenwood was having dinner with an executive at Ogilvy & Mather Dallas, and discussing a possible career move. "He then looked at me and said 'Here's the thing; you worked on that ---ing commercial!'" Greenwood joined Ogilvy as creative director in 1998.
"I don't think I would've have had that opportunity if it weren't for the Super Bowl," he said. "I was frank about my involvement in the commercial and it paid off."
Greenwood said that it has definitely opened doors for him, but it's a "bitter sweetness. You think it can pave the way for you for your entire career, but that's not always the case."
No Guaranteed Return
Creating a spot for Super Sunday isn't a guaranteed way to get headhunters beating down your door. If your creative fails to deliver, it may become a roadblock for your career.
Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University, recalls "Nipplegate," Janet Jackson's halftime performance during the 2004 Bowl that made headlines that year. AOL, which also sponsored the halftime show, ran "confusing" ads during the game featuring characters from American Chopper, a reality television series about a motorcycle garage, Calkins said.
Len Short, the executive vice president of brand marketing at Time Warner's AOL unit, left the company a few weeks after the game. A spokesman for XO Communications, the Herndon,Va.-based company Short founded last year, didn't respond to requests for comment.
"The stakes are very high," said Calkins, who leads Kellogg's annual Super Bowl Advertising Review, an event where business school marketing students and faculty produce a ranking of the ads that appear in the Super Bowl.
Go Big or Go Home
Don Fibich, creative director at Kemp Goldberg Partners, an ad agency based in Portland, Me., was creative director for Blockbuster's "Mouse Click" commercial, which aired during the 2007 Super Bowl. He was then working at Doner, an independent agency based in Southfield, Mich.
"There is a lot of focus, a lot of people watching and critiquing," he said. "We all know who's done what and what spots were created and how well they did, the last thing you want to do is wind up on the bottom end."
Everyone in the industry is watching the people behind the ads, too.
"You can't say it's not fair to talk about my ad, because that's why you did it in the first place," said Calkins. "It's like being on American Idol."
When you work on a Super Bowl ad, agency bigwigs notice. Fibich said that when he sees that on someone's resume, he knows that the candidate beat a lot of competition to get the assignment. And that they were exposed to the best directors and production teams.
"You already know you are talking to people that are pretty good," he said. "That kind of preface adds a certain level of qualification."
For Super Bowl spots, agencies will not use "second-rate talent," said Fibich.
The Super Bowl is not only big because of the number of people watching it and critiquing the advertisements, but also because of the amount spent by clients and agencies, said Jeanne Branthover, Managing Director at Boyden Global Executive Search. "The amounts are big," she said.
The big budget can be a red flag for hiring managers.
Jennifer Carroll, a senior client partner in the marketing practice at recruiting firm Korn/Ferry, said that companies may approach candidates with Super Bowl experience with "cautious optimism."
"Potential employers might wonder later if that person would be as resourceful and inventive without reliance on a certain budget level," she said. If you spent all that money and created a winner, "So what?"
A good way to work around this on a resume, said Carroll, is to include details about the work done outside of the 30-second spot, such as ancillary social media campaigns. "My clients want to know whether it's worth it from an ROI perspective," she said.
Greenwood, the creative director at TracyLocke, said that if you do score a touchdown with a Super Bowl commercial, whether it's by accident or design, don't miss the opportunity.
"For creative people, it's a big trophy you walk in the room with," he said. "You take the ball and you run with it."
Write to Shareen Pathak