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How the NFL Tricked America with a Halftime Super Bowl Stunt


Hungry Man director, Bryan Buckley, 72andSunny’s ECD, Zach Hilder and CMO of the NFL, Tim Ellis on the ad that twisted and turned to score a touchdown after the halftime show, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

How the NFL Tricked America with a Halftime Super Bowl Stunt

Titled ‘Run With It’, the NFL’s blockbuster big game spot pays tribute to women driving the sport forward by featuring Diana Flores, the quarterback for Mexico’s national flag football team, in a chaotic and star-filled chase. Airing right after the ‘Apple Music Super Bowl Halftime Show’, the NFL tricked the audience into thinking the spot was being broadcast in the moment, with Fox Sports anchor Erin Andrews interviewing Diana ‘live’ on the sideline. During the interview, Erin tries to take Diana’s flag - but she is too quick, sparking an intense game of flag football.

Created by ad agency 72andSunny, and directed by the ‘King of the Super Bowl’, Hungry Man’s Bryan Buckley, the spot then follows a cast of football players and other celebrities chasing down Diana in a chaotic cat-and-mouse chase, including: YouTuber MrBeast, Diana’s own mother, and NFL players past and present, such as Sauce Gardner, Jalen Ramsey, Aidan Hutchinson, Cam Hayward, Davante Adams and Jim Kelly.

With a little help from fellow iconic women in sport, including tennis legend Billie Jean King and football players Bella Rasmussen and Vanita Krouch, Diana escapes her opponents across rooftops and even through hotels and malls. To discuss how the NFL and the agency came up with the idea behind the ad, and how Bryan Buckley took this idea and ‘ran with it’, LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with the director, as well as 72andSunny ECD, Zach Hilder and NFL CMO, Tim Ellis.

LBB> How long has 72andSunny been working with the NFL now? What’s the key to developing such a fruitful partnership?

Zach> We’ve been working with the NFL for about five years. The key to our success has been our ability to rally around great ideas and have honest conversations throughout the process. We hold each other accountable, and as a result, it has created a true partnership and some truly electric work.

Tim> The way we work with 72andSunny is truly intimate and collaborative. We have a common vision around the NFL brand, as well as what makes great, unmissable creative. We are extremely open and transparent when we work together, and we thrive on challenging each other. We always strive to identify and execute big ideas that are grounded in human insight, and we simply won’t stop until we get to creative that’s insightful, moving and powerful.


LBB> After years of collaboration, how do you keep things fresh? When do you know when it’s time to move onto a new strategy or direction, and how do you find new creative ideas together?

Tim> If something feels off or tired, or in any way predictable, we have enough trust in each other to call it out immediately. If they think I’m wrong, I want to hear it. And they always respond well to my thoughts and instincts. Even if we don’t always agree, we help each other get to the right place.

Zach> Before the start of every season, we come together for two days at an offsite where we review the new direction for the season. Beyond the game itself, we discuss the impact football can have on the country - to unite us, rally us or, in some instances, distract us as a great escape. This process has led us to create different season themes from ‘It Takes All Of Us’ to ‘We Run As One’, to ‘It Feels Good To Football’.


LBB> How did this ‘Run With It’ idea come about? Why did you choose to highlight flag football and women in the sport?

Zach> Women in sport has always been a key priority for the league. We’ve featured female athletes in a lot of our work in the past. However, this year, we didn’t just want to make the women’s story a cameo in a larger football story. Women in the sport is the story this year. We’re putting it front and centre on our biggest stage.

Tim> Our ‘helmets-off’ strategy is about shining a light on our athletes - taking the proverbial helmet off and highlighting the passions and causes they care about. This has helped us bring more casual fans closer to the NFL as they connect with the players they watch and cheer for each week. 

Our three growth demographics are youth, the Latino community, and women. Flag football naturally plays into our strategy of growing the sport and our fanbase with these three audiences because it’s fun, fast, inclusive, and accessible. We have been working to grow women’s flag for many years, and the tremendous amount of momentum that we have seen behind the sport lately shows that. We work with our clubs to help them build, fund and develop their youth flag football programs, and have been leading the charge to build meaningful flag youth programs across some of our international markets. 

Flag is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports disciplines, as it’s played by over 20 million people in more than 100 countries, and on every continent. Numerous states have officially sanctioned girl’s flag football as a varsity sport at the high school level, and we are working to see that number grow. In addition, this year at the Pro Bowl Games, not only was the main event a series of flag games, but the week also featured several youth flag activations.

Finally, we know that the most direct route to avid fandom is through participation. So, as women’s flag is already thriving and growing rapidly, getting girls and women to play the game is a sure way to grow our fanbase. Ultimately, we are passionate about the growth of flag football, and that shows as we use our biggest, most powerful moment of the season to tell a very human story that spotlights Diana Flores, a world champion flag football player.

LBB> So, Bryan, how did you put this idea into motion?

Bryan> The idea came to me in a script form. It was epic from the get-go. The opening was a lock with Erin - it was such an incredible idea, but it wasn't just a gimmick. It led to a much bigger and more important message, as did the end with her mother. The question was, what the hell got us there? So, I pitched a bunch of stuff in treatment form. We would go back and forth and what really came out was we should keep it real. Every stunt should be practical - within the capabilities of an incredible athlete. Then I started location scouting, and that's when things started coming together.

LBB> When and why did you get Diana Flores involved? Did you already know her story, or was this uncovered during research for the campaign?

Zach> Like any great football team, 72andSunny is always scouting for great football talent. In partnership with the NFL, we consider ourselves stewards of the game, so we’re always looking for the next generation of athletes who are going to impact the game. Given Diana Flores’ success at the World Games, she stood out as not only an incredible talent on the field, but off of it. Diana came up in the NFL system, believe it or not. She played in NFL flag football leagues growing up in Mexico, so she really was proof of the NFL’s commitment to not only women in the game, but the game of flag football itself. Now, with this film, she’s become a torch bearer, and that’s why it was so important for us to get Billie Jean King in the film. We’re hoping this moment inspires little girls everywhere to pick up a football, just as Billie Jean did with tennis.

Tim> Diana made perfect sense for a handful of reasons. Firstly, she’s arguably the best Flag football player in the world. As the quarterback for the gold medal-winning Mexico National Women’s flag football team, the level of play she offers is unmatched in her sport. Diana was the fourth youngest quarterback at The World Games in 2022, and has been a member of the Mexico Women's Flag National Team since 2014, beginning when she was just 16 years old. Diana even came up through Tochito, Mexico’s NFL flag youth football program, played by boys and girls across all 32 Mexican states.

Diana is also Mexican, which is an incredibly important aspect for us to recognise and celebrate (you’ll see that much of the dialogue in ‘Run With It’ is in Spanish). Our commitment to celebrating the Latino community, as well as diversity overall, is an integral part of our marketing strategy, and will continue to evolve as our fanbase and the sport grows. Finally, Diana’s spirit and positive energy is powerful and contagious. She is an amazing role model and ambassador for the sport.

LBB> What was the strategy behind using the athletes (including iconic women like Billie Jean King and Vanita Krouch) and influencers like MrBeast? What was it like seeing all of these athletes and personalities come together?

Tim> It was a strategic decision to use the influencers and athletes the way we did. Billie Jean King allowed us to unite and bridge the past of women’s sports with the future, and showcase the ever-evolving nature of inclusion and diversity in sports. Vanita Krouch, much like Diana, is at the top of women’s flag football as the quarterback for US Women’s National Team. We also have Bella Rasmussen, the first female tackle football player to have an NIL deal. We thought it was important to showcase star female tackle and flag players side by side to really highlight how football is for everyone. 

On the flip side, we have MrBeast, one of the largest influencers in the industry. This is his first Super Bowl commercial, and his participation will electrify his 130 million fans. However, we know that while his reach is enormous, not all of our audience may recognise him. We actually like that. Our goal with all the influencers and talent we chose is to continue to bridge generations, shed light on important stories, bring in a more youthful audience, and continue to create a conversation around our game.

LBB> How did you shoot the chase to be as intense as possible? 

Bryan> I drew over 1,000 storyboard frames and pieced together how each shot would unfold into the next. Lauren Dellara, our brilliant editor, and I would do one boardoamatic after another - figuring out what we really needed to tell the story and what was extraneous. Meanwhile, my DP, Hoyte Van Hoytema, went to work on bringing the most energy possible to every shot. We ended up using Ronin cameras on dolly mounts with a remote head for a massive amount of the shoot. We used hand-held where appropriate, and zero Steadicam. We also experimented with various body rig mounts to make you feel like you were in Diana's world.  

I worked with Rene Mousseux (stunt coordinator) from the very early stages, figuring out how we could do parkour moves while holding a football - sliding down elevators and jumping over crazy crevices. I brought my production designer, David Skinner, in on stunt calls, so we designed every piece to allow this to happen while also granting us the ability to adjust on the fly.

LBB> Tell us more about those stunts - there are people going through doors, tables, across rooftops… How much health and safety paperwork and stunt people did you have to work with?

Bryan> I run from paperwork, but I am guessing there was a ton. The escalator moment was completely practical. Toss in a three-story drop from each side of the escalator - the danger was high. Oh, and we didn't use cables on the parrot or Diana. We had spotters on the escalator who were there to catch them, and we cabled the spotters down because the sheer force of Diana or the Parrot falling off the 10-inch wide slide could knock them off.

LBB> The spot also has a comedic thread throughout - with some funny timing created by the edits. How did you try to add moments of comedy in the film?

Bryan> Lauren [Dellara] was a gift. No one worked harder to cull the edit to such a great place. The process was intense. I storyboarded over and over and she would dump the frames into our boardomatic edit. Then, once we started shooting, she did nightly assemblies. I could review the flow and timings using a combination of the actual footage and rough boards. 

As far as the comedy, we would write multiple lines and improv lines for every player we shot… except Billie Jean King. ‘Oops!’ just seemed perfect. So, coming into the edit, we had the material. In the end, the question was how much comedy and how much chase - finding the right balance in the film while setting us up for the final titles, which were critical. The team messed with this combo right up until the final, locked picture

LBB> What were some shots or sequences that provided an interesting creative challenge for you? How did you solve them?

Bryan> The challenges were endless. The job was booked on Christmas Eve, and opening gifts while revising treatments which would massively affect a 90-second Super Bowl spot - which, in turn, I believe could alter the landscape of how we view women's sports - was beyond a daunting task. My team essentially didn't sleep for 30 days, as we had less than that many days to wrap one of the biggest shoots in Hungry Man’s history. Sleep, I often say, is overrated. I feel this spot is a proof of concept in that.

LBB> How do you hope the audience reacted to the spot and to this elevation of flag football? And how will you be supporting the future of women in the sport in subsequent campaigns?


Zach> I hope it inspires girls everywhere to pick up a football. For so long, we’ve been presented with one image of a football player: masculine and alpha. But the truth is, football is for everyone. And it's our job to make sure the world sees that.

Tim> Football has historically been a sport for men, but we are changing that. What we can show with flag is that football is for everyone, no matter what gender or background. Yes, we will continue to have tackle football, but flag football is a critical component to growing the sport as a whole. We are evolving the definition of football and expanding it by providing more opportunities for people to highlight their talent and love for the game.

Our hope is that fans will be moved and inspired by the campaign, while also finding some real excitement in the spot. Having us take the biggest moment of the year to celebrate a young Latina female flag player is an exciting evolution and growth point for us. A lot of what we do in our strategy is to make the league more human and show a level of vulnerability and compassion. This is a very human story. 

We have shown in the past a willingness to take risks and open up in a human and authentic way, and ‘Run With It’ is no different. With this spot, I hope that more casual fans who may not be as familiar with us and our messaging will want to learn more. Football is for everyone, and we will continue to drive home this message in all that we do. 

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 16 Feb 2023 17:08:00 GMT