Verizon’s CCO on resisting Super Bowl spectacle: ‘We're diligently staying on narrative’

Verizon resisted the lure of expensive, bells-and-whistles production for its Super Bowl ad, instead opting for an uncomplicated spot tied to its overarching push around 5G.

The wireless network continued last year’s focus on the heroic work of first responders, tying it to its holistic investment in 5G.

In a subversive script, Harrison Ford tells stories of ‘The Amazing Things 5G Won’t Do’ in his first ever commercial voiceover. He lists the human elements of bravery that won’t change despite the strides forward in connectivity, while Pearl Jam's River Cross plays.

But despite the star-studded credit list, the work itself was a simple, pared back production. The script was accompanied by photojournalist stills of hospitals, disaster zones, raging fires and devastating floods, and the first responders that save lives in their midst.

Finding the imagery that could be broadcast across hi-res TV was a “challenge in itself” for Verizon agency McCann New York,

“We probably lost a lot of imagery that didn't hold up very well, especially anything that was a little bit more historical – even [photos] from five to 10 years ago," explained Andrew McKechnie, chief creative officer of Verizon. “So, those images are sourced from every imaginable photographer, company, newspaper ... it runs the whole gamut.

“We tried to keep it more photojournalistic, in terms of it being more observational, not something that was too staged or felt like we were just creating portraits of first responders.”

Amid the raft of decidedly humorous spots this year, Verizon’s spot stands out in its sincerity. But it also stands out in its simplicity; with such a big audience, a number of brands including Snickers, Olay and Coca-Cola all splashed out on Hollywood-level Super Bowl shoots largely detached from their wider ongoing campaigns.

That’s a strategy McKechnie was determined to avoid.

“I think the challenge a lot of brands have is they always flirt with new ideas in new territories,” he said. “It’s actually very difficult for both creative agencies ... and brands to stay deliberate and intentional around a message. Everyone gets bored with the things that they're saying very quickly, and they continue to just switch out brand campaigns or platforms or ideas.

“We've tried to be quite diligent about staying on a narrative, and not necessarily maneuvering too far off that. While we always look at new stuff and think ‘that’s kind of cool’, it [often] feels like it's some new thing that is not adding to the equity that we've been building over the last few years.”

So, Verizon is sticking with its 5G-for-good promise, installing 5G Ultra Wideband across Miami in time for the Big Game in a well-timed infrastructural stunt. And it’s pushing its work with first responders one step further with a final spot airing after tonight's (2 February) Super Bowl.

Verizon and the NFL are encouraging football fans to spend their spare time during the off-season volunteering across the country through the campaign #OneMoreSunday. The brand aims to collect pledges amounting to 2.5m volunteer hours by 2025 in an initiative fronted by footballer Eli Manning.

“For us, the Super Bowl moment is ... a nod to the human spirit,” said McKechnie. “I think we all need to be reminded of that. That's why we've built this partnership with the NFL – to galvanize that energy that fans have around coming together around sports and teams.

“We can leverage that spirit and turn that into something good.”

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