Editing Chevy’s Inspiring ‘Life’ Super Bowl Ad

Jay Ankeney

The NFL predicted that Super Bowl XVLIII would be a showcase for the best offensive and the best defensive players of the league. Regrettably, they didn’t tell us they would both come from the same team.

As a result, the gridiron mismatch in which the Seattle Seahawks humiliated the Denver Broncos with an almost-shutout of 43-8. Nevertheless, Fox is claiming the largest audience of any TV show in U.S. history for Super Bowl XVLIII. Nielsen says the broadcast attracted 111.5 viewers, topping NBC’s tally of 111.3 for the 2012 Patriots- Giants rematch.

More than 5.6 half million thumb typers sent out 25.3 million tweets (424,000 for the Bruno Mars/Red hot Chili Peppers halftime alone). Real time data reporting firm Adobe Analytics says the big game even attracted more than half-a-million streamers per minute on digital platforms such as the Fox Sports Go iPhone/iPad app or FoxSports.com. These streaming channels gave Web watchers prescient foresight into the play on the field since the TV broadcast was delayed one minute and 16 seconds after the online view, much to the dismay of those without a second screen placing bar bets at their local tavern.

Still, it’s fortunate for advertisers forking over a reported $4 million per 30-second slot that when it comes to the Super Bowl, for many the play on the field is a secondary attraction. In January, San Francisco advertising agency Venables Bell & Partners released a poll indicating that 78 percent of Super Bowl viewers were looking forward to the ads this year, up from 59 percent in 2011.

That may be why, despite the lopsided score, Tara Maitra, senior vice president, general manager content and media sales at TiVo Research said that even during the fourth quarter, “Our findings showed viewers tuned in and were engaging with ads and promos, evidence that even ad buys at that point in the game were connecting with viewers.”

In fact, from 9:30 p.m. (ET) to the end of the broadcast, Fox Sports earned a 44.0/63 rating, only five percent lower than the entire game. So it bodes well for future ad placement that at least four of the commercials on most top 10 lists were aired during the fourth quarter. These included Oikos Greek Yogurt’s “The Spill,” GoDaddy’s “Bodybuilder,” Dorito’s “Cowboy Kid,” and the much-ballyhooed “Puppy Love” Clydesdale canine/ equine romance from Budweiser which after weeks of preview hype didn’t actually air until after the final two minute warning.

Fig. 1: Chevy’s “Life” Super Bowl ad opens with a Chevy truck approaching with its headlights glowing. Overall, this year’s Super Bowl ads ran the gamut from the heart-warming patriotism in Budweiser’s “A Hero’s Welcome” spot to the goofy Muppets in a Toyota to Audi’s truly disturbing genetically engineered dogs in “DoberHuahua,” even embracing a flatulent “splort” from a Grandma squeezing a Heinz ketchup bottle.

For many companies, this was an annual ritual of high-powered hucksterism. But Radio Shack announced it was closing 500 stores just two days after their spot stuffed with TV stars of the ’80s ran with :59 left in the first quarter. Curiously, the ad opened with a counter clerk answering a phone on a vintage coiled wire saying “The ’80s called. They want their store back.” Looks like they got it.

If you have any trouble finding websites streaming these spots, your Google must have been gaggled. YouTube’s “Ad Blitz” kept its voting poll open through Feb. 13 before declaring a winner. But don’t holster your mouse until you’ve found the brilliant sendup by comedy troupe Garlic Jackson of Coke’s unexpectedly controversial multilingual “America the Beautiful” entry called “Rejected Coke Languages.” It’s an audio re-mix in Klingon, Dothraki, Pig Latin, Morse code and hieroglyphics, including a line signed by that stone-faced wacko from the Mandela funeral.

Although this year’s incarnation of “The Declaration of Independence” that Fox aired toward the end of the Pre-Game Show deserves much credit, as do the multiracial Cheerios “Gracie” ad in the first quarter and Chrysler’s generation-bending two-minute “America’s Import” spot featuring Bob Dylan in the third quarter, the biggest winner of the day was probably freelance wedding photographer Ryan Andersen who turned a $300 production budget into a $1 million prize by producing “Time Machine” for Dorito’s “Crash the Super Bowl” contest.

But for this editor’s eye, Chevrolet’s 60-second “Life” spot, positioned in the break after the first quarter, was the most outstanding example of a company investing in community awareness over product placement.

Those editors familiar with classic film theory regarding screen direction affecting contextual montage structure (c.f. Eisenstein and Vorkapitch) will immediately appreciate the way the “Life” spot’s creative team at the Leo Burnett Detroit agency put into editor Andy McGraw’s hands the material to convey a message that will make your heart glow through the simple juxtaposition of images.

Fig. 2: Interior cab; woman looking at the sun Watch it carefully. Then wipe your eyes and watch it again. The spot’s shot structure structure is analyzed here using the editor’s shorthand for screen direction (L>R meaning “oriented left to right,” etc.) which is so crucial to its impact.

Chevy’s “Life” spot starts with a snowy prairie under a rose-tinged sky as the lyrics from Ane Brun’s “Don’t Leave” song fill the soundtrack.

• A highway cuts through the landscape, oriented L>R.
• A Chevy truck comes at us with headlights glowing, R>L (Fig. 1)
• Medium close-up pans interior of cab L>R, picking up a woman’s face looking out the window away from camera.
• Reverse tight shot, woman’s face, oriented R>L, eyes gazing evocatively into the distance.
• Shot of roadway going by underneath, and cut to reveal face of male driver, looking L>R
• Wide shot of truck on highway moving R>L under a sun cresting mountains in background.
• Interior cab, woman looking at sun R>L (Fig. 2).
• Now the key sequence starts at 36 sec. in.
• Reverse close-up of woman looking L>R out the window. She reaches back her hand to the man’s arm on the steering wheel. He looks over at her with loving concern in his face and moves his arm to take her by the hand, all L>R.
• Hands grasp each other now in a R>L orientation. Motion overlaps previous shot for emphasis.
• Medium close up—two shots of faces looking R>L. Man looks at the road ahead, woman still gazing out the side window at the sun.
• Wide angle—truck drives down the highway L>R as the words “This Tuesday is World Cancer Day” appear and the audience is asked to “join Chevrolet in celebrating survivors… and those who support them on the road to recovery,” as the truck disappears into the pearl-colored sky. I want to believe they are driving toward a sunrise, not a sunset.

There are no special effects, no stars, no explosions or funny animals. Through brilliantly conceived editing, Chevrolet’s “Life” homage gently encourages us to appreciate the importance of human compassion as we move through the tableau of life’s crucial moments.

Now that’s a Super Bowl spot worth $4 million.

Jay Ankeney is a freelance editor and post-production consultant in Los Angeles. He may be contacted atJayAnkeney@ mac.com.