A little over three years ago, Hal Curtis, creative director on Wieden+Kennedy‘s Coke account, was wracking his brain for an idea for the next Super Bowl spot. “When you start to think about Coca-Cola,” he says, “you start to think, what are settings that have scale, that seem to be in the voice of Coke? Well, it’s a football game, a baseball game, a July Fourth picnic, a parade.” There. Curtis had it: a parade.
He wrote a script that took place at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. A giant balloon of Stewie from “Family Guy” spots a balloon of a Coke bottle. Only, then a balloon of Underdog does the same. The Stewie balloon lunges for the Coke, then Underdog lunges for it, and a mid-air balletic battle commences.
“The original script I presented to Coke had them fighting for this Coke balloon,” Curtis tells Fast Company, “but in the end, the Coke balloon hits this flag pole and deflates. And Stewie and Underdog just rise up into the sky with their blank balloon expressions on their faces, and that’s the end of the commercial. Which I loved, I just thought it was a funny ending.”
The presentation closed, and Curtis waited to hear the Coke executives’ responses. They loved the spot, they said, they loved the concept. Just one problem, though.
“That ending is terrible. This is a Coke ad. We can’t do that,” they told him.
Curtis walked out the meeting, somewhat dejected. He had no ideas for alternative endings. “You can’t just have one of them get it,” he thought. He just couldn’t come up with anything better. “What I liked about the flag pole,” he recalls, “is that neither one would get it. The story was over.” Maybe the spot could cut down to the crowd, showing people looking up and enjoying their own, non-inflatable Cokes, sipping the liquid pleasurably up through straws. But that felt deficient.
Curtis went home and sat down to dinner with his wife and his two high-school-aged children. His wife asked how the day’s presentation went. He told them about his predicament. Then his son, Will, who was about 12 at the time, piped up with a suggestion.
“Well, why can’t another balloon get the Coke?” Will asked.
That was it. Curtis went back to Coke with the idea, and they loved it.
There ensued something of a small licensing nightmare–Macy’s, Fox, the Chrysler building, and other parties all had to get on board, negotiating with Coke and Wieden+Kennedy. Macy’s wanted a bit more of its own brand imagery in the opening shots. The Underdog folks weren’t pleased with the positioning of Underdog’s arm in a previsualization of the animation. And so on.
Finally, after the interminable negotiations, the ad, “It’s Mine,” aired during the 2008 Super Bowl.
Neither Stewie nor Underdog gets the Coke. Rather, the true underdog does–Charlie Brown, whose previous association with football is one of eternal, Sisyphean failure (thanks to Lucy’s famous sadism). And here he was, old Charlie Brown, at the Super Bowl, finally having his day.
The whole meaning and tone of the ad was transformed, for the better. “When people parroted back what the ad was about, they didn’t say, ‘Oh, it was about a Thanksgiving Day parade, and two balloons fighting.’ They’d say, ‘It’s a story about Charlie Brown finally winning.'”
The spot was nominated for an Emmy that year. In 2009, Adweek named it the best Super Bowl spot of the decade.
“My son came up with the ending, and he was 12,” marvels Curtis. He chuckles. “That shows you how difficult this business is.”