The man behind some of the Super Bowl’s most memorable commercials
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bob Moon: Just days away from Super Bowl Sunday and the match-up of two storied teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. In addition to the game, millions will be glued to their TVs to watch the commercials. Companies spend millions to put ads on when millions are watching. Joe Pytka is one of the men behind many of the commercials you’ve seen and remember, including during the Super Bowl. He’s literally directed or produced thousands. Remember this one?
Joe’s here to talk to us about the business of making winning commercials. Joe, good to have you with us.
Joe Pytka: Good to be here.
Moon: So exactly how many commercials have you directed or produced and how many of those would you estimate were during the Super Bowl?
Pytka: Oh, I can’t even begin to tell you how many I’ve done. But I think I’ve done between 60 and 75 for the Super Bowl.
Moon: You’ve sent us a list of your favorite Super Bowl ads. If you had to pick one that was both really memorable and fun to make, which one would it be do you think?
Pytka: I think the ones that I did with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird called “Nothing but net.”
Just being with the guys was a lot of fun. The guys got along well together, even though I don’t think they’d met much before that.
Moon: How does the idea take root?
Pytka: The advertiser, like Anheuser-Busch or Nike, has an advertising agency that does the creative work and that process can vary from just rendering the script or the storyboard that they’ve given me or changing it almost completely as long as you know what the eventual theme is supposed to be.
Moon: Can you give us an idea of how big the industry is? You know, we hear all the time about the millions that companies pay to have a commercial during the Super Bowl. What kind of money do companies actually pay the people that make the commercials?
Pytka: A commercial can easily cost in the millions of dollars. It’s unusual that a commercial for the Super Bowl wouldn’t cost somewhere around a million dollars. But the benefit is huge because you have an audience of 100 million people in the United States alone. There have been studies done that say that if you advertise on the Super Bowl, there are significant improvements in your position in the stock market and the perception of your company — even in the commercial isn’t very good.
Moon: What makes a good commercial and perhaps what makes a good Super Bowl commercial? Is there a difference?
Pytka: No, I don’t think there is a difference. I think that a good commercial has to be an interesting story, well-told in some manner, that does not pander to a specific audience. The ones that have been successful for me always have a touch of humanity and a lot of times a touch of magic or mystery.
Moon: Now there’s one commercial on your list of favorites that was a bit controversial. I’m talking about this one where you’ve got three munchkin men singing to the real Judy Garland as Dorothy in the land of Oz. Their voices suddenly deepen and thanks to the miracle of computer graphics, I take it, a FedEx truck drops from the sky and delivers three colorful helium balloons. It was a clever and creative ad, a lot of fun. But right after the Super Bowl back in 2000, FedEx ended up pulling it from its ad schedule, I understand, when anti-drug groups complained that it could promote the teen practice of huffing to get high?
Pytka: Yes, exactly. It never entered anyone’s mind that the notion of the inhalers and stuff blindsided everyone. And FedEx took it off the air immediately.
Moon: I’ve heard, though, that sometimes controversy can help these ads?
Pytka: I know that they can if it’s the right kind of controversy, and they didn’t want that kind of controversy.
Moon: Do you have any commercials in this year’s big game?
Pytka: Ironically, I don’t have any this year. I’ve had a long relationship with Budweiser and we were doing the Clydesdale commercials for the last five or six years and Budweiser was taken over by a company called InBev and they’ve completely changed their strategy this year.
Moon: One of your commercials for Budweiser was one of my favorites, where the service people came back through the airport and there’s spontaneous applause for them and just the words “Thank you” on the screen.
Pytka: I love that one, too. They came up at the last minute. I think August Busch had a sense of responsibility for that subject. And the only issue I said was that I want them to be real servicemen and not actors. And it was an incredibly moving experience working with them and I hoped the commercial would be received properly as being a dedication to the servicemen and not anything else. And a lot of people think it’s their favorite commercial of all time. It was a great experience for me actually.
Moon: One of the men behind a lot of the great commercials that we see. Joe Pytka, thank you very much for joining us.
Pytka: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
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