It is no coincidence that, in a star-studded Super Bowl commercial for ScottsMiracle-Gro, the celebrities are never in the same frame.
Nor is it an accident that, in Bud Light’s ad, the cast of classic characters assemble in a forest, rather than a small bedroom.
The clues are slight, but significant — deliberate, yet easily missed. If you look hard enough, however, you may notice a few minor ways that brands and creative agencies altered their Super Bowl commercials due to COVID-19 this year.
Some of the changes — lots of outdoor filming locations, for example, and fewer shots of large crowds — will be visible during Sunday night’s broadcast of Super Bowl 55 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Others took place behind the scenes.
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With safety in mind, some brands tried to limit the size of their film crews, or asked actors to wear a mask between takes. COVID-19 testing and cleaning protocols were implemented. And there was an overall emphasis on efficiency.
“When it’s time to work, you get in, you pop in, you do your thing,” said Michael B. Jordan, who stars as “Alexa’s body” in an Amazon ad this year. “There’s not a lot of just hanging around each other, having opportunities for carelessness. It just kind of cuts to the chase a little bit more, I think, during production.”
Amazon’s commercial shoot spanned five days, including three with Jordan on set. The company said all of the cast and crew members received both antigen and PCR tests, and there were “strict zoning guidelines” to limit close contact between participants. Actors like Jordan were also required to wear masks when not on camera, among other COVID-19 protocols.
Bud Light senior brand director Joe Lennon said the beer brand took similar precautions when shooting its ad, which reunites iconic characters from past years.
“We certainly had fewer people on set than usual,” Lennon said. “I attended the shoot remotely. My creative partners mostly attended the shoot remotely. We did everything to ensure health and safety of everybody on set was the top priority, and keeping the set as small as possible was also a huge priority for us.”
Lennon added that Bud Light intentionally set the bulk of the commercial in an outdoors location. Experts say COVID-19 generally spreads more easily indoors than outdoors.
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For ScottsMiracle-Gro, which sells lawn and gardening products, staying outside was an obvious decision, regardless of COVID-19. But the brand and its creative agency, VaynerMedia, took additional steps to ensure the safety of those on-set, including daily testing throughout the four-day shoot.
“Having been through COVID myself, I knew firsthand just how seriously we had to take our safety measures,” Martin Granger, who directed the commercial, wrote in an email.
The 45-second spot, which is Scotts’ first Super Bowl ad, features celebrity appearances from Leslie David Baker of “The Office,” NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, fitness instructor Emma Lovewell, businesswoman Martha Stewart, actor Carl Weathers and John Travolta, dancing alongside his daughter, Ella.
Granger praised the celebrities for being “fully on board with the concept and how to shoot it in the best and safest way possible,” and VaynerMedia for its approach.
“The creative team from the ad agency came up with a great concept of how to get a bunch of celebrities into a backyard and never actually have them have to physically interact,” Granger wrote. “Not an easy task!”
There’s hope that by this time next year, the pandemic will have receded and there will be a sense of normalcy — both in society, and on the sets of Super Bowl commercials. Granger, for one, is eager to return to a time when he can relay subtle adjustments to an actor without standing six feet away and talking through a mask.
Yet he and other Super Bowl creators also said they’re proud of what they were able to make this year, COVID-19 and all.
“While it was different this year,” Lennon said, “we were really pleased with how it all turned out.”
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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