Jeep’s Groundhog Day spot with Bill Murray was undoubtedly one of the best ads of Super Bowl 54, topping both Adweek’s list of the 10 Best Super Bowl Ads of 2020 and USA Today’s annual Ad Meter.
But the last-minute production could easily have never aired as Fox sold out of ad inventory in November and the brand began shooting ten days before the game without a media buy.
All the steps had to fall into place for it to work.
Back in October 2019, Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Jeep parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), said FCA was thinking about the Super Bowl, but was on the fence because it didn’t have a car launch to promote this year.
It was Chicago-based boutique ad agency Highdive that pointed out what he called the “funny, intriguing magical alignment of the dates” in an idea for another FCA brand, Ram Trucks. But Francois said Ram wasn’t really his #1 priority in 2020.
“But when you start planning for the Super Bowl, you look at every brand, every nameplate. They were in the truck mindset and they said, ‘Do you know what February 2 is?’” Francois said. “I said, ‘It’s the Super Bowl, but probably something more,’ and … they said, ‘It’s Groundhog Day,’ and then I said, ‘Oh my god, it’s probably time to call my friend Bill Murray again.”
That, of course, is because Murray starred in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day as a self-centered weather reporter forced to relive the same day in Punxsutawney, Pa. until he learns a powerful lesson.
As luck would have it…
Coincidentally, Francois and Murray have mutual friends, so their paths crossed at social functions over the years. Calling Murray “a Picasso or a Da Vinci of improv,” Francois said he has stayed in touch and tried in the last few years to work with the actor.
“He never had been receptive because clearly how could you ever remotely think of Bill Murray as guy who would take a check to endorse a product?” Francois said. “It’s literally a few people for whom it’s never a question of money. He’s one. You cannot even buy him for a movie as far as I understand.”
Indeed, in the press release from Jeep, Murray said: “This is my first commercial. I’m glad I did it with you. … and I’m glad that this is my last commercial, as well.”
Francois loved the idea of reprising the movie for the Groundhog Day Super Bowl so much, he took a chance, composing what he called a “nice, handwritten letter” to Murray, ending with, “I would really love to talk to you, call me, text me, email me or send up a smoke signal.”
He gave this letter to their mutual friends.
‘Let’s do that’
For three months, there was no answer. Francois thought that was the end of it.
“The only real big idea we had—or potentially big idea—was the Groundhog Day idea. So that was relatively clear, but we literally had no Plan B,” Francois said. “It was almost a feeling of relief—‘Okay, we’re not going to kill ourselves on a Super Bowl commercial.’”
Then, two weeks before the Super Bowl, Murray responded.
“He called on the phone and said he realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which is true because this phenomenon on Super Bowl Sunday colliding with Groundhog Day … is the first time in 54 years … so it’s like Halley’s Comet,” Francois said. “He probably took a lot of time to open the envelope and all of a sudden on January 17, he called us and said, ‘Let’s do that.’”