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Why Jeep Ran a Vertical Ad on the Super Bowl With 112 Million Watching Horizontal Screens


Jeep's "Portraits" ad, which aired at halftime of Super Bowl 50 and ended up being our favorite spot of the game, wasn't just riveting in its content. It was radical in its format. On a night when 111.9 million viewers were watching the telecast on horizontal screens, "Portraits" was a vertical video—using less than half of the available screen space.


Sean Reynolds, global executive creative director at iris, whose New York office created the 60-second spot, tells Adweek that the content just called for that approach—and it happened to look great on mobile. 

"The close crop was important to really focus the viewer on the eyes and the stories they tell," Reynolds says. "We always had the idea that because it's a portrait ad, it would look great on a mobile device. So we spent a lot of time talking and testing with YouTube to make sure it played full-screen on a portrait device."

Indeed, it does. If you cue up the YouTube version on a smartphone and maximize to fill the screen, it plays beautifully in the vertical format—likewise on Facebook.

The standard horizontal aspect ratio these days is 16-by-9. This video is approximately 7.7-by-9 (it takes up about 48 percent of the horizontal screen). "It's not a standard aspect ratio," Reynolds says. "It's one that we came up with based on the best crop of images we were using and the fact that it had to look great on a mobile device."

The approach was unusual, but that was part of the point.

"We had a great client that shared in our desire to be brave and do something a little unexpected with the ad," Reynolds says. "For us it was never about whether we used the whole screen or not, it was about creating the most impactful piece that we could."

Thanks to subtle visual touches throughout the spot, the photos are never entirely static. The camera zooms almost imperceptible in and out, and there are even a few cinemagraphs—static photos enhanced with a small portion that is moving. These touches add texture, says Reynolds.

"There is a slight camera move on every image. It just really helped with the visual storytelling, and although subtle, I believe it helped with the craft of the final edit," he says. The cinemagraphs, he adds, were "something we always intended to do. The trick was not to overdo it, so as not to detract from the images themselves, but to add some additional texture. They also act as little visual 'easter eggs' that make people want to go back and watch it again."

Asked which of the stunning photos are personal favorites, Reynolds says there are too many to count.

"I think they all help tell the unbelievable, authentic story of Jeep over its course of 75 years," he says. "The fact that they are all different, imperfect and not over-stylized, was very important. Obviously the focus is on the power and beauty of people's eyes and the stories behind them. I also love the visual play of the story and images—the girl peeking through her fingers when we say fear. The dog and rear of the Jeep when we say wandered and roamed. And I personally have a soft spot for the smiley face on the Jeep headlight."

The poetic voiceover copy also makes the spot evocative. "The original write was almost 90 seconds, so there were several versions we went through when shortening it down to 60," says Reynolds. "The important thing was to always demonstrate and maintain the breadth of Jeep stories, no matter the iteration."

The craft is impressive indeed, in its simplicity and quiet daring. But Reynolds says the true power of the piece resides in the authenticity of its subjects.

"The most compelling and beautiful thing we found was the sheer emotion and power behind people's real Jeep stories," he says. "When we spoke to George Speaker's daughter Alice about her dad, and the pride that they had in him and his Jeep portrait, it brought a tear to all of our eyes. That's when we knew this was going to be a really powerful, participative idea." 

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