Last year, the NFL debuted one of the more ambitious ads in its history. Celebrating the 100th year of the league, the outstanding two-minute ad, set at a banquet that goes haywire, featured a raft of current players, legends, cultural icons and the next generation, including young female football phenom Sam Gordon.
The ad, created by 72andSunny, was unlike anything the league had done before. And it caught the attention of football fans around the world, deservedly landing at or near the top of many best ads of the Super Bowl lists.
With such a standout effort, could the league top itself this year?
While details of the two-minute spot, which will run before kickoff on Sunday, are being kept close to the vest, Tim Ellis, the NFL’s CMO, provided a glimpse into the spirit of what the league hopes to accomplish.
“Last year, we really focused on the joy of the game,” Ellis said. “Throughout all of our marketing communications, we created a tapestry of football legends, current superstars and strong females. The ad also blended young and old, injected youth culture, and was pure adrenaline and fun. This year, it’s all going to be about that next generation of stars, so we’re going to pass the torch.”
The teaser provided by the NFL provides some clues about the ad, which includes deep nods to fans and the league’s markets. It also continues a “helmets off” strategy that Ellis adopted last year, putting more focus on the athletes off the field.
The story arc, according to Ellis, involves one young athlete, YouTube sensation Bunchie Young, taking an epic journey across America that culminates in a special moment in Miami. Along the way, Young meets NFL legends, current stars and important figures in youth culture. The latter-day Forrest Gump theme also sees Young play tackle and flag football with 32 other kids (who were winners of a league-wide contest) that participate in the sport across America.
Some current and former players include Joe Montana, Steve Young, Ray Lewis, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. In addition, key female athletes including Toni Harris (the first woman to receive a college football scholarship and featured in Toyota’s Super Bowl ad last year) and Carli Lloyd (the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team star who famously kicked a 55-yard field goal at Philadelphia Eagles training camp) make cameos. Professional skateboarder Nyjah Huston also makes an appearance, further integrating other pastimes into the sport.
Teed up as both a bookend and sequel to last year’s ad, the creative concept isn’t what the league had initially approved with 72andSunny. That ad would have been popular and engaging, Ellis noted, but it felt closer to the same idea as last year.
“We took a piece of juggernaut creative, put it aside and, lo and behold, we came up with something that is much better and makes more sense because it’s grounded in youth and our new generation of players and fans,” he said.
“We started the year with a two-minute kickoff of the league’s 100 years, and we’re closing it by going even bigger,” added Glenn Cole, 72andSunny founder and creative chair.
The 2019 ad was a logistical high-wire act. Organizing dozens to people to descend upon a Los Angeles studio proved to be a real challenge. Going into several markets was an even more ambitious approach. But according to Cole, the result was a unique and made for a different vibe between the players and fans.
“It was still logistically crazy, but it felt like the players were in their own element being in their cities and with their fans,” he said. “There was a real swagger and pride that we get to enjoy, scene after scene, in the ad’s two minutes.”