18 Aug 2016by PW Client
Americans Fall for Aussie Television Ad
It took just 30 seconds for Peter Carstairs to announce to 300 million people that he was a director of comedy.
The television commercial Ultrasound Peter directed for the Doritos competition Crash the Super Bowl, converted 100 million social media viewers, and, at best guess, nearly 200 million television watchers into fans.
Peter of all genres
Peter Carstairs has succeeded in most styles of film. From his first short, Gate, documentary Afterwards, feature film September, to the television series Nowhere Boys, Peter is no stranger to accolades for his work. He even graduated the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney as Best Director, Best Drama Director, and clutching the Most Outstanding Documentary award.
‘I worked in long form for 10 years – television and feature films – in Sydney. My first short film was comedy, but I’ve done little in that genre since,’ Peter told Media Super.
Two years ago, he turned his considerable talents to advertising. More specifically, funny advertising.
‘Advertising is a tough industry to break into. To get work, you need a kind of artistic calling card. The trick is avoiding being pigeon-holed as expert in something you have no real passion for.
‘I was looking for a signature comedy project, when the Doritos competition fell into my lap,’ he said.
Right place, right time
Peter was working on car commercials when he received an invitation to enter the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl competition.
‘The Doritos competition is well-known in advertising circles, but it has only been since 2014 that directors outside of the US have been invited to enter. Already, Australian filmmakers have made their presence felt,’ he said.
In the first year, Tom Noakes made the top five with Finger Cleaner, and last year Armand de Saint-Salvy’s Manchild made the top 10.
Peter went to work. Knowing his experience was limited to longer form work, he enlisted help from two writers from Cummins and Partners, experts at this length project.
‘We refined it down to a script that would work and everybody rolled up their sleeves knowing that they might never get paid. We told the cast, crew and production folks that they would be paid their normal fee if we made runner up, and double if we pulled off the $1million first prize,’ he chuckled.
The greatest show in the USA
The Super Bowl is the USA’s premiere sporting event. More Americans watch that game than any other sporting event – around 120 million view the live broadcast. This is a big deal for advertisers. In fact, the 100+ ads shown are subject to almost the same scrutiny as the football game.
This year, Doritos whittled down the initial 4,500 entries to a less unwieldy list of 50. The winner would receive $1 million, the runners up, $100,000 each.
‘We watched all 50 and felt that ours was pretty strong. We didn’t know at that stage how many would make the final cut. When we heard it was only three, our confidence sagged a little bit.
‘Then, just before Christmas, Doritos flew me to America to tell us we’d made it! I was sworn to secrecy until the launch date of 4 January though, so any celebrations had to wait,’ he said.
Once the top three were announced, voting opened to the public for a month.
‘Because this was the first time an Australian entry had made the top three, there was a huge amount of attention. It was very demanding. In fact, by the end of the voting period, we had enlarged our social media PR team from three to 12, just to cope with the attention we were getting,’ he said.
Once Ultrasound was released on social media, it went spectacularly viral. By the time the voting period ended the ad had been viewed 45 million times.
More eyeballs, more accolades
Voting closed at the beginning of February and they flew back to San Francisco for the Super Bowl and the announcement of the winner.
‘The week before Super Bowl, Ultrasound took off even more. By the night before the game it had 65 million social media views. Once the game was played it went further and by the end of June, there’d been just under 100 million views,’ Peter said.
This doesn’t take into account the many tens of millions of Americans and Canadians who are still enjoying the ad as it continues to air on evening TV.
While Ultrasound missed out on the big prize, Peter remains excited about their achievement.
‘Our goal had been achieved. Our work doesn’t come to life until there is an audience, and when you consider the number of folks who have seen our work, it was staggeringly successful,’ he said.
But wait, there’s more…
‘The day after the game, the media picks over the ads shown at Super Bowl and discusses them at length. We were coming in as the most popular commercial that was played. People really dug it,’ Peter said.
From this success, Peter earned a contract with American agent, industry giant William Morris Endeavour, and is being sent feature scripts to read.
‘I’m in the game,’ he said. ‘That alone is a considerable achievement.’
Peter is currently working with Sydney-based production company, Scoundrel.
‘It’s all good. I’m taking meetings in America. I’m busy, and I’m always ready to direct something funny. Anytime,’ he laughed.