An article in the Jan. 28 edition of TV Week, which is printed in advance, incorrectly reported the cost of running a commercial during the Super Bowl. The cost is $2.3 million for 30 seconds of air time. (Published 1/28/01)
Sometimes Super Bowl TV commercials are more memorable than the games. And if any spot in Sunday's NFL championship is a candidate for that honor, it's the latest from EDS.
They're the guys behind last year's "Cat Herders" commercial, who followed it up at Thanksgiving with a construction crew building a plane in mid-flight.
Today, the Texas-based information services firm unveils the third in its so-called trilogy of ads, all of which stress the need for businesses to stay ahead of these fast-moving times.
Like the first two, the new ad uses subtle humor and stunning visual effects to relay that message. And like "Cat Herders," the new ad relies on animals to do the job.
Playing off the annual ritual in Pamplona, Spain, of running with the bulls, the EDS spot is titled "Running With the Squirrels."
"We like the fact that there's a 'how did they do that' aura to these spots," said Donald R. Uzzi, senior vice president of global marketing, communications and government affairs for EDS. "People want to see these commercials over and over. And every time they do, they discover something new."
Not surprisingly, the technology used to create these ads makes them more expensive than the average TV commercial. Whereas most 60-second spots cost up to $1 million to produce, the EDS ads cost nearly $2 million apiece.
But David Lubars, president and executive creative director of Fallon Minneapolis, the advertising firm that created the spots, said cost is a relative term.
"The money spent on a successful commercial is minimal when compared to the enormous return you get," he said. "What's expensive is when you do the job wrong. Then, it's a debacle."
With failure unlikely on "Squirrels," only one question about the campaign remains: How did they do that?
Let's start with "Cat Herders." As the trilogy's first ad, its primary goal was to raise awareness of EDS, founded as Electronic Data Systems in 1962 by Ross Perot. The technological consulting firm, almost 40 years old, serves 55 countries and has about 125,000 employees.
"A $20 billion corporation that was a secret," as Uzzi said, noting that EDS performs a variety of functions ranging from providing businesses with their data processing infrastructures to designing and running those businesses' Web pages.
In an age of digital transformation, however, Fallon's creative team wanted viewers to know that EDS understood the world was more complex than it once was.
Meanwhile, technocrats from New York's Silicon Alley to California's Silicon Valley had begun comparing the management of their respective staffs to the herding of cats. When Fallon caught wind of the phrase, an idea was born.
"It was an expression that was instantly visual," said Fallon art director Dean Hanson, who along with copywriter Greg Hahn created all three EDS spots.
By combining a cat's unpredictability with the iconography of the American West, Fallon sold EDS on a concept that underscored its ability to lead businesses into a new era of productivity.
There was just one problem.
"Cats aren't compatible with horses," Hanson added. "So we couldn't have them in the same area."
Using a technique known as motion control, the film crew first shot the cowboys on their horses, then filmed the cats, and combined the two images in the editing room.
Hanson said getting the cats to run en masse was more bizarre than it was difficult.
"There were about 20 to 30 trainers with cats in boxes on one end of the field," he said. After prompting them with a buzzer, he said, "the cats came stampeding" to the other end where they were rewarded with tuna fish.
The toughest scene to shoot was one in which the cats cross a river -- that is, a simulated river.
"Essentially, it was a Jacuzzi built in the middle of nowhere," Hanson said. And to acclimate the cats to the river, the film crew first had them wade through a quarter inch of warm water, gradually building up the level until it reached chest height.
Not known for their love of aquatics, most of the cats declined. In the end, only four performed the stunt.
But it was enough to create the illusion. Critics and viewers praised the ad, which was nominated last year for an Emmy Award. At last year's Cannes advertising festival it also won a Silver Lion, one of the advertising world's top honors.
The "Airplane" ad also was assembled in the editing room. But first, the film crew went to an airplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert, where they shot as much as they could inside the interiors of scrapped airliners. Then they brought several of the larger scrapped pieces to Los Angeles, where, using wind machines and a blue screen -- what TV weather maps are projected onto -- they were able to complete filming.
The ad "Squirrels" also was filmed using a blue screen. Shooting in Spain, the crew initially filmed townspeople, many of whom, Hanson said, actually had run with the bulls.
And although filming the squirrels was similar to filming cats, Hanson said it was a more painstaking process.
"Squirrels are solitary and very combative," he said, "so you can't shoot more than one at a time."
If special effects were all that these ads had to recommend them, then they might be less memorable. But whether it's the image of a cowboy rolling a big ball of yarn, or a 150-mph wind gushing through a flight cabin, the campaign's surprising visual gags have engaged viewers as much as have the effects.
For advertisers, jokes can do more than make viewers smile. In the case of EDS, they put a face to what otherwise might be perceived as a cold, incomprehensible company.
"When you're dealing with a firm as big as EDS, one of the most effective ways to show that they're human is to share a laugh," said copywriter Hahn. "It makes it feel less like a corporate environment."
Although EDS's target audience comprises primarily top corporate executives, Uzzi said the success of both "Cat Herders" and "Airplane" has helped raise awareness of EDS among the general public by a whopping 50 percent, a fact that he said subsequently boosted morale both among EDS employees and clients.
The ads also have boosted Fallon's reputation. Not that it needed it.
The agency first made a name for itself in the 1980s with a promotional campaign for Rolling Stone magazine. They followed it up with another successful magazine promotion for Time.
In an effort to reconfirm their newfound status, EDS and Fallon chose to return to the Super Bowl, where "Cat Herders" premiered last year.
Of course, it's no secret that the annual sporting event is one of advertising's priciest platforms. The average cost of placing a 60-second commercial in Sunday's game is about $2.3 million. But with the stakes so high and with other advertisers also hoping to stand out from the crowd, Uzzi knows that today's EDS ad must make as strong an impression as did the trilogy's first.
"The Super Bowl is like going to the Kentucky Derby," he said. "When you go, you always hope you're bringing Secretariat."
Odds are, "Squirrels" is one of the horses to beat.