Anthony Cardenas came to ArtCenter’s Advertising program equipped with equal quantities of talent and doubt. He doubted whether it was wise to spend several years pursuing his second undergraduate degree. (He had recently received his BA in Marketing from CSU Northridge). He had questions about how he’d finance his degree. He also wondered whether it made any sense for him to focus on copywriting at an art and design college.
But eventually his anxieties lifted once he discovered that his unconventional choices—aka his differentiating qualities—were fueling his success. “Everyone I was in school with wanted to be an art director, so why not be a copywriter?” Cardenas remembers wondering. “I enjoyed it, my peers seemed to enjoy my writing and found it funny (or they were really good at pretending to laugh), and I thoroughly enjoyed doing that more than sitting on a computer comping all day. So, I made it known to all of my friends and teachers that I wanted to become a copywriter, and I was the only one at that time really.”
The decision paid off. Cardenas landed a job as a copywriter at Garage Team Mazda shortly before collecting his Advertising degree from ArtCenter. Less than a year later, he received word that the Mazda spot his team had created, featuring magician duo Penn and Teller, would air during the Super Bowl—an experience which is essentially a copywriter’s equivalent to playing in the Super Bowl.
We seized upon this auspicious occasion to catch up with Cardenas about the process of creating the Super Bowl spot, his supernova career trajectory and how those early doubts have been transformed into unalloyed passion for creating advertising with an artistic sensibility. And, hey, if it happens to air in front of the world’s largest TV audience, all the better.
Art Center: How did this project come about?
Anthony Cardenas: It was part of Mazda’s campaign that we were working on, which required featuring celebrities or someone who had “changed the game” in some way. After going through a large number of potential candidates, we boiled the list down to five. That’s when we started concepting ideas on how each spot would look, and this one got picked in the end.
Art Center: What was the ideation process like?
Anthony Cardenas: The process was a little different than what I learned in school, but essentially once we had our list of contenders (game changers), we started concocting different ideas on how to incorporate the person/persons with the car. Our main goal was to make sure it didn’t feel like two separate ads, but that it was one cohesive piece. Since Penn and Teller are magicians, we started thinking of ways we could incorporate a car into a magic act. That’s when we thought of cutting the car in half, but what we finally ended up with was quite different from where we started.
Art Center: What were some of your thoughts on what makes a good Super Bowl ad?
Anthony Cardenas: This commercial wasn’t intended to be a Super Bowl spot: We had found out about two weeks prior that it would air in 6 different regions around the US, so we never went in with the mentality of making a Super Bowl spot. But after watching all of them this year and many years prior, I think what makes a good Super Bowl spot is something that can make an audience laugh, while still retaining what product the commercial was promoting.
That toe fungus commercial this year was god awful. But you know what? It was genius. Geniusly awful? That’s not a word but we’re pretending it is for a moment. Everybody was talking about it (even though most people were wondering why that became a Super Bowl spot in the first place). And I think it was money well spent on their part.
Art Center: Did you approach this differently than other projects because of the pressure/opportunity involved in producing an ad for the largest audience on the planet?
Anthony Cardenas: We never knew this would air during the Super Bowl so we went in with the same attitude as we would with any of our work. I think even if we were to make another spot next year with the intention of airing during the Super Bowl, we would approach it the same way. I say that now, but I would probably feel extra nervous about making sure we did a good job with our spot. Millions of people will see it. And there are a lot of meanies on twitter.
Art Center: What were your inspirations for the concept?
Anthony Cardenas: I would say old school magic (like when they all had mustaches) and watching some of Penn and Teller’s acts. We were just trying to think of the best possible way we could incorporate the car into a magic trick that would be an easy read for the audience and could be entertaining as well.
Art Center: What were the challenges in executing the concept?
Anthony Cardenas: I think the biggest was just making sure we had the right cuts in the spot so that the pacing and the flow of the commercial worked. We had cuts that went too fast, some that went too slow. Then we added in music to the spot and that changed it even more. Some of the music made the spot move too fast so we’d have to re-edit. Some would make it too slow etc. With shooting the commercial, we got more than enough shots to cover our bases and everyone was amazing to work with so honestly the biggest challenge was in post.
Art Center: What did it fee like to see it broadcast during the Super Bowl?
Anthony Cardenas: I wish I could have seen it. But Los Angeles wasn’t one of the regions selected to broadcast our spot. I did get a call from my friend during the Super Bowl who lives in D.C and told me he just saw it. So that was kind of a cool feeling that a friend across the country saw something that I worked on.
Art Center: What have been some of the most important steps you’ve taken to carve a career for yourself in this area?
Anthony Cardenas: Just trying to do the best work possible for our agency—something that not only pleases the clients, but something that makes the people who worked on it proud as well. It’s not always easy but I feel like with this spot we definitely achieved that nice balance. Also, just look at ads: Print ads, billboards, digital executions, commercials. Look at what other agencies are doing and see what works for them and what doesn’t. It’s a great learning tool and sometimes can be that inspiration you need when all else has failed.