How'd They Do That? The Inside Story of the Making of Ford's Super Duty
Super Bowl Commercials
How do you tell 93 million Americans in a minute or less that your new truck is the most capable ever built? For Ford Motor Company’s launch of the 2008 F-Series Super Duty, another commercial of a pickup doing donuts in the mud wasn’t going to cut it.
Several months before Super Bowl XLI, Ford truck marketing execs and their advertising partners at J. Walter Thompson Detroit decided the perennially most watched television program would be the perfect platform to kick off promotion of the new line of F-250, F-350, and F-450 pickups.
“We wanted to create an eye catching campaign, that wasn’t just showing a truck on dirt,” says Brian Rathsburg, Ford Truck communications manager. “JWT Detroit came up with three themes for commercials. One of the themes, ‘Inside Story’, was presented to us and it just popped out as the perfect way to tell the story about the new Super Duties.”
By now you’re probably familiar with these mesmerizing 60, 30, and 15-second spots. They show an exploded field of truck parts self-assembling into a Ford F-450 while a square jawed spokesperson walks around explaining the technical high points of the vehicle. The Matrix-like special effects are enough to evoke a Keanu Reeves worthy, “Whoa!” from any auto enthusiast.
“What makes a Ford truck better than the rest is that its parts are better. So, in the ads, we thought, what if you could walk around the parts and talk about them? The Inside Story was perfect because it allowed us to do that with a concept that has very high ‘rewatchability’,” says Rathsburg.
With a greenlight for the concept, real work began in early December 2006, only about six weeks before the ads had to be ready to air. For the first few weeks most of the time was spent on research and pre-production activities.
Ford and JWT continued to refine the concept through storyboarding. Storyboards are typically hand-drawn illustrations ordered chronologically to pre-visualize a motion graphic. They save time and money before an actual commitment is made to production.
Three sets of storyboards were created, called “Crate”, “Everything”, and “Dual Turbo”.
Crate's storyboards start with a giant wooden crate dropped into a Super Duty's bed. As the truck’s “owner” closes the tailgate the truck flies apart into hundreds of pieces that hang suspended in the air while the person walks around explaining the truck’s capabilities. The pieces come back together to show a Super Duty at a worksite and the crate hanging in midair, again. It finally drops with an impressive impact into the cargo box to end the spot.
In the Everything layouts, the Super Duty’s major components are shown floating weightless in space. The engine, suspension, and body are largely in their assembled state as the spokesperson interacts with the parts, which come together at the end in a 3/4 frontal shot of a finished F-450 dually.
The Dual Turbo boards are the inspiration for the memorable shots of the Super Duty’s 6.4-liter Powerstroke diesel engine assembling itself. The storyline is similar to Crate but the parts are shown in greater detail, especially the dual sequential turbos in the PSD. As the truck reintegrates, a giant boat speeds in from the right to be hooked to the pickup and end the advertisement.
“Clearly a lot changed in the final execution even though the overall concept is the same,” says Ford truck communications spokesperson Wes Sherwood.
Leading special effects firm The Mill was hired to create the computer generated (CG) animation necessary to make the commercial’s storyboards a reality. Headquartered in London, with offices in LA and New York City, The Mill won an Oscar in 2001 for its work on the movie Gladiator recreating a virtual, ancient Rome.