Director Jake Scott worked on his first Super Bowl ad when he was still a teenager. The work itself was not glamorous, mainly running around completing odd jobs. But the ad that the award-winning British director, now 49, was helping his father (director Ridley Scott) make, Apple’s iconic “1984” ad, wound up becoming a big deal.
“That was the first time the Super Bowl entered my consciousness,” Scott said. “Because I'm English, it has less of a resonance than it does with somebody who's grown up with it.”
“1984” wound up not only inspiring a whole generation of commercial directors, but essentially giving birth to Super Bowl advertising as we know it as well. Today, the Super Bowl – or at least its ads – are on Scott’s mind a lot. He has helmed more than a half-dozen Super Bowl commercials over the last three years, including two this year: a Saatchi & Saatchi LA spot for Toyota starring the Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy and a bawdy Carl’s Jr. spot starring model Charlotte McKinney (the ad was created by 72andsunny).
Scott is one of a handful of directors to have multiple Super Bowl spots on his filmography. Though he’s made a name for himself in the film world with music videos for bands including R.E.M. and Radiohead, as well as a Sundance-nominated feature (2013’s “Welcome to the Rileys”), you could argue that Scott’s best-known work aired on Super Bowl Sunday. “Puppy Love,” the Budweiser ad that won the USA Today Poll for Best Super Bowl Commercial of 2014, was seen by more than 100 million people the day it premiered, and it’s been watched more than 55 million times on YouTube.
Yet for all the attention lavished on Super Bowl commercials, the people who direct them are pretty much unknown to mainstream America. If you grab people on the street and ask them who directed their favorite movie, most of them could probably tell you, or make an educated guess. But their favorite Super Bowl commercial?
“I don't know if they're interested, really,” Scott says, laughing.
Just as a handful of directors claim Hollywood's top projects, a handful of directors including Scott are involved in the ads America tunes into during the big game. Asked whether there is some common thread that runs between himself and directors like Joe Pytka or Brian Buckley who have also done multiple Super Bowl spots, he demurs. “I really do think it's luck,” he says.
“You get one successful one in … or you do something memorable, and everyone clamors to get that. It's a business.”
But there are very particular things that make Super Bowl ads successful. Whether it’s humor or a grand message, there are certain things that Scott knows he is expected to deliver every time he takes on one of these projects.
“It's all about iconography to me,” Scott says. “Playing with stereotypes, American stereotypes, and finding new ways to do that.”
In Scott’s commercials, that can mean a lot of different things. Whether it’s following the unlikely hero of a football game or noting the way animals get along, Super Bowl Sunday’s most popular directors are all aiming for something unambiguous and clear. They also have to deliver on that promise without any additional help. Though Scott’s Super Bowl clients splurge on the multimillion-dollar airtime, they do not pay anything extra for the work itself. “It’s just the standard contract,” he says.
But because of how expensive the airtime is, the stakes remain just as high. "It's a ton of pressure," Scott says. Failing to deliver can cost an agency a client's business, or light a public relations fire that can only be put out by pulling the ad altogether, as GoDaddy was forced to do earlier this week when animal rights activists complained that their ad promoted ordering pets online.
"I'm just happy we got ours through," he says.
Scott’s got a long way to go before he catches someone like Joe Pytka, a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame who directed more than 80 Super Bowl spots over the course of his career. But even as he keeps his eyes peeled for feature film opportunities and chances to do other kinds of work, he will always look forward to Super Bowl work. “It's a great honor to be asked to do them,” he said.
“I'm not going to question it,” he continued. “I'm just going keep going, as long as I’m asked.”