Jordan Hollender

The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched broadcasts on TV each year — but the game is only half of the reason. The other half? Commercials, of course.

Linda Sawyer knows the Super Bowl as well as anyone, although her knowledge of football is probably less than that of your average fantasy-football player. That’s because Sawyer knows the Super Bowl more as an event than as a game, and she’s been using that fact to her and her clients’ advantage for more than 20 years. This year, Sawyer — now CEO of North America for Deutsch Inc., the high-powered New York and Los Angeles advertising agency that has created Super Bowl ads for clients like Volkswagen,, General Motors and Mitsubishi — and her team are adding an evolved Go Daddy campaign to its list. We caught up with Sawyer, one of Ad Age’s 100 Most Influential Women in Advertising, to discuss the high-pressure dance of Super Bowl advertising.

Favorite Super Bowl
Commercials of All Time

One of Linda Sawyer’s most memorable commercial experiences was watching the Apple ad “1984.”

Here are ours:

The Force
(Volkswagen, 2011)

If you don’t smile while watching this small boy in a Darth Vader costume try to use The Force on household objects (including the family VW), then you’re a robot.

Terry Tate, Office Linebacker
(Reebok, 2003)

A hysterical mix of Office Space-style work silliness and NFL-inspired violence.

Old Spice Man
(Old Spice, 2010)

Something about the absurd humor makes it work. “I’m on a horse.” Yes you are, big guy.

Mean Joe Greene
(Coca-Cola, 1980)

It’s slower than you remember (isn’t everything from way back then?), but it still tugs the heartstrings when Mean Joe tosses the kid his jersey.

When I Grow Up
(, 1999)

The background music and innocent demeanor of the children as they spout workplace clichés still induces as many scared smiles as the first time it aired.

AMERICAN WAY: Are Super Bowl commercials still worth the time and money for clients?
LINDA SAWYER: There is no bigger stage for marketers to reach a mass audience. Last year, the Super Bowl was the most-watched broadcast in U.S. history, reaching over 111 million viewers. … A single 30-second spot reaching an audience of this size can be the quickest way to build brand awareness, launch a new product or restage a company/brand.

AW: Your Super Bowl ad in 2011 for Volkswagen — The Force, where the little boy in a Darth Vader mask believed he had started the car — is already considered iconic. Did you know it would be a hit?
LS: We were very confident going in. … It unanimously generated the No. 1 Super Bowl spot in a range of media venues and polls in North America and globally. [But] the success was unprecedented. Some projections for VW’s return on last year’s Super Bowl investment was almost $1.9 billion in earned media value.

AW: Why do you think the mainstream consumer is so interested in Super Bowl commercials?
LS: The Super Bowl is a social entertainment event that is broader than the game itself, and the ads have become part of [that] experience. People anticipate the commercials, tweet about them, vote for them.

AW: When developing a Super Bowl commercial, do you consider its viral potential?
LS: Absolutely … 58 percent of Americans paid attention to Super Bowl ads before the game, 48 million Americans will re-watch ads after the ­Super Bowl and 40 million Americans plan to share their favorite ads online after the game. ­Almost all of this is free ad exposure.

AW: What are the go-to rules for these ads?
LS: Dogs help, as well as celebrities, popular music, humor and flawless execution. But ultimately, it’s a combination of a simple bold idea with consumer insight that taps into popular culture.

AW: Do you and your friends watch the competition during the Super Bowl and rate them like everyone else?
LS: Of course!