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The New King of Super Bowl Ads

January 21, 2013

If there were an award for Super Bowl advertising, Wieden + Kennedy would probably win that one, too.

The agency has been the belle of Cannes and the Emmys, winning 45 Lions and its fourth-straight Emmy for outstanding commercial last year. But it has also earned a reputation as a big-game player, producing 21 Super Bowl ads in the past six years for the likes of Coca-Cola, EA and CareerBuilder, and 2012’s iconic “It’s Halftime in America” for Chrysler.

This year, W+K returns with two ads for Coke and one for Mondelez’s Oreos—a coveted project borne of the shop’s past success on the most watched show on television. In short, Dan Wieden’s place has become The Super Bowl Ad Agency.

Yes, some of Wieden’s most memorable ads featured celebrities—a well-worn cliché of the game. But they’re marquee names with gravitas who rarely appear in commercials and therefore surprise you. Think Eminem in 2011’s “Born of Fire” for Chrysler and, of course, Clint Eastwood as the grizzled narrator in “Halftime,” which found signs of hope in a still-dark economy.

“I give the Clint spot the brass balls award,” said Michael McCarthy, a former Adweek editor who now covers sports business at SportsBizUSA.com. “It totally goes against the grain of everything that Super Bowl advertising is supposed to be: funny kids, cute dogs, three jokes. And it gets to the real meat, the heart of what’s going on in the country today. Plus, you’ve got one of the all-time great American icons talking to you.”

Wieden’s success on advertising’s biggest stage also reflects a willingness of big brands to take risks, despite an unforgiving spotlight and the high cost of entry. This year, marketers are paying CBS an average of $3.8 million for 30 seconds of time.

“The greatest challenge for brands and agencies is to not buckle under the pressure,” said Jason Bagley, a Wieden creative director who has worked on five Super Bowl ads, including the upcoming :30 for Oreo. “More than ever, it’s the time to not overthink it, be courageous and go for it. And I think that’s the culture of Wieden + Kennedy.”

In other words, just do it.

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