February 2nd, 2015

While millions of fans tuned in to watch the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks go head to head in Super Bowl XLIX, brands took the battle off the field in a competition featuring some of the year's top creative ideas, celebrity cameos, clever copy and of course, spectacular effects. We're taking you beyond the concepts in our Super Bowl blog series featuring interviews with the creative minds responsible for several of the night's best spots.

The NFL partnered with the NO MORE, a public awareness and engagement campaign focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault, to create "Listen", the organization's official Super Bowl PSA. The spot is the first-ever Super Bowl commercial addressing domestic violence and sexual assault.

We had the opportunity to ask Sam Howard, a producer at NFL, about the organization's relationship with NO MORE and how the spot pairs audio with subtle visuals to tell a powerful story about domestic violence.

What is the NFL’s relationship with the spot and the NO MORE organization?

As we’re not experts on the topic –and still ever learning, we’ve worked to surround ourselves with experts in the area of DV/SA (Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault). One of the NFL’s principle advisors, Jane Randel, opened a door to her NO MORE organization.

We and worked with another foundation, Mariska Hargitay and Maile M. Zambuto’s Joyful Heart Foundation, in discovering content that already had a space in the marketplace – a message that people were already digesting.

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What began as media/message donation evolved into our players reaching out to ask if they could be a part of that message. Developed pro bono by Rachel Howald at the global ad agency Y&R (Young & Rubicam), a series of unscripted spots titled “Speechless” were part of the PSA campaign that included celebrities and NFL players designed to shed light on how difficult it is for all of us to talk about domestic violence and sexual assault.

The whole process was very organic and a great way to shed light on a problem that doesn’t get enough media allocation.The NFL’s biggest asset in this is the media value that we have and are able to offer, allowing No More to speak through our channels – The messaging should come from the experts on the subject.

We were lucky to find the best, and this spot came from that sustained relationship.

How did the spot airing during the Super Bowl come about?

We had wanted to use Super Bowl as a platform for DV/SA if we could find the right piece of content; this was it.

The 'Listen' [Super Bowl] spot harnesses the idea of bystander awareness as its pivotal message and communication. This spot, from the way it was presented initially to the way it evolved, is such a creative look at empowering the bystander and keeping them conscious.

From a pure production standpoint, it’s rare that you get to marry audio like that with subtle and powerful visuals; it’s just a rare moment to do everything so well. We jumped at the opportunity to help put that together, and with Grey, worked very closely with NO MORE in the development of it.

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Many Super Bowl spots are blockbusters…tell us about the approach of this spot?

For something to cut through, it needs to grab you right away, and I think this is one of those spots that you can’t help but look up at. There’s nothing that can pull you away from that initial engagement. A spot that is quiet and subtle can be just as arresting as the blockbuster – there is little effectiveness in the middle.

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Part of the beauty and power of the PSA is the subtly in the visuals as the camera cuts through to several scenes in the home. With such a powerful story, how did you choose to convey the message through this type of storytelling?

The director [Nadav Kander] is such beautiful photographer, so it was great to work with him. The visuals are arresting without the audio, so it’s a perfect union.

The pictures and audio track work together seamlessly. When you are listening to this call and looking into this home, you are able to hear the audio with a clear canvas visually. I admit that it took a great deal of time for us to understand how these pieces would come together so effectively.

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You don’t know where the ad is going at first, but then as the story builds and you begin to realize what’s going on, you’re really hit with the ad’s power.

I think there are a couple of levels within the spot. You have the turn in the call where the operator begins to understand what’s going on. Then there is the part where the operator asks if there is someone in the room with the caller, which is paired with the visual of the open doorway with the light crackle of the TV. The audio-visual pairing found itself very organically in the edit.

There are very subtle audio-visual sync throughout, and I think those very subtleties are really, really powerful. It might take you a couple times to watch it, but when you see where those syncs occur, it only makes the spot more powerful.

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The spot is also powerful as online piece because it’s something you want to share and you can watch it over and over. Will it continue to air after the Super Bowl?

It will stay online where people can find it and we will find ways where we can make impactful media donations for a piece like this. Finding time in the right space for this piece is important to us.

It doesn’t overwhelm you, and with the shareablitiy and the closing call-to-action to Pledge on the NO MORE website, there are a lot of layers of long term value here.

The film was graded by The Mill in NY's Head of Color Fergus McCall. Find out more about the spot here.