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Creating a VHS Super Bowl Ad for the Last Blockbuster


Atlantic’s CCOs on the ‘David vs. Goliath’ big game campaign for the video store that’s staying ‘Until the Bitter End’, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

Creating a VHS Super Bowl Ad for the Last Blockbuster

Created by New York-based agency Atlantic, an ad from the world’s last Blockbuster made a bold statement at the Super Bowl this year, in its own, retro way. Pitching analogue against digital, and a single store against an entire stadium (and millions watching at home), the last-standing location of the iconic video rental company played its own big game spot at the store’s Super Bowl party… on VHS tape.

In the film, a lowly cockroach scuttles through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, only to find salvation among the rubble via the bright lights of the immortal Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon - which has seemingly outlasted the rest of humanity. 

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, Atlantic’s co-founders and CCOs, Joao Coutinho and Marco Pupo, discuss how countercurrent marketing is vital to the last Blockbuster’s brand awareness and survival, being empowered by the bravery and trust of the store’s general manager, and the challenges that come with making an ad on VHS in 2023.  

LBB> How did this project come about? Did Blockbuster fax you?

Joao and Marco> Blockbuster hasn’t faxed us any brief yet, but that will likely happen at some point. However, we’ve had many old-school phone calls and a bunch of Zoom meetings (surprisingly, their dial-up internet is pretty good). After a few chats and some research, we understood that brand awareness is key to the survival of their business. Because although it’s a brand that most people would love to still see around, the reality is that most Americans don’t even realise that there’s one last store standing, with no plans to close. 

LBB> What are some of your best Blockbuster memories? 


Joao and Marco> Going to Blockbuster on Friday nights. Spending quality time with friends and family. Asking for recommendations from a real human and not an algorithm. Those were great times!

LBB> What was the brief for the film like? When and why did the VHS idea come about?


Joao and Marco> We touched on this earlier, but we honed in on the business problem (brand awareness), which led us to come up with an idea that would be insightful and true to the brand in an unmissable way. That’s when we thought that doing something countercurrent around the Super Bowl could bring them a lot of attention.

LBB> Knowing the ad was going to play exclusively at the store’s Super Bowl party, how did this affect your creative process? Was there more freedom knowing that it wasn’t airing to a larger audience or subject to certain ad expectations or regulations?


Joao and Marco> Sandi Harding [general manager at the last Blockbuster store], our client, is extremely brave and loves a good and fun idea. She gives us a lot of freedom and definitely supports even the craziest ideas - as long as they make sense for their business. So, playing it exclusively at the store didn’t affect the creative process at all. In fact, that was part of the idea from day one. Playing the commercial on VHS at the store on February 12th is exactly what made the idea catch all the attention. This is a story about: David vs. Goliath, zero dollars vs. millions of dollars, analogue vs. digital, and a store vs. a stadium.

LBB> How did you develop the story of the cockroach in an apocalyptic wasteland? And where did you take inspiration from for the tone and style of the ad? Did you watch a lot of old VHS-era spots?


Joao and Marco> Video cassettes and DVDs have been replaced by streaming services. At the height of its popularity, there were about 9,000 Blockbuster stores. Today, there’s just one left in the world. Sandi Harding and the managing team at Blockbuster Bend have managed to keep the brand alive, despite all the fears of their ‘world’ coming to an end. It shows an enormous sense of strength and resilience, and that’s what inspired us to come up with the idea ‘Until The Bitter End’. 

LBB> How was working with Dweck productions? Were you on set at all? If so, what fun moments or lessons did you experience during the production process?

Joao and Marco> To pull this off with a very minimal budget that would make sense for the last Blockbuster (don’t forget that they are a mom-and-pop store right now), we kept the process very nimble. Only one of our creatives (Jessica Morford, art director) went to the shoot in Bend, Oregon. On the production side, our head of production, Greg Jenkins, coordinated everything remotely, and made sure Paul and Ted, the directors, had all the freedom. We love their work and trusted them completely in their process. Once we were all aligned on what we wanted to do, they ran the whole thing smoothly, and, we couldn’t be happier with the final result.

Our biggest lesson during the process is: find great talent that loves your concept, work together to define what the vision is, and then trust them to use their talent to bring it to life. 

LBB> What part of this project gave you the most joy/satisfaction? And what posed the most interesting creative challenge? How did you solve it?


Joao and Marco> The most joyful parts of the process were our meetings with Sandi and her team. Every single meeting with them is very light and funny, and you almost forget that you’re actually working. Seeing the store on their backgrounds on Zoom is priceless. Sandi is an incredible and very inspiring business leader - turning that store into a pop culture icon.

In terms of challenges, the process of making a commercial on VHS in 2023 is not the simplest one. Although the technology is simple, it’s not easy to find everything you need to make it happen. And because none of us had worked with VHS in the past, there were a few surprises – like the moment when we lost the master file when we were doing more copies of the VHS. Luckily, we were able to find a solution very quickly. Everything, as always, worked out fine.  

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Atlantic , Thu, 16 Feb 2023 16:36:00 GMT