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The Force? It’s with him

Über-cute VW Super Bowl ad’s co-creator grew up in Kingston

by Crispin Kott
February 17, 2011 11:01 AM | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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David Povill.
Super Bowl XLV brought with it the hype that’s become synonymous with the big game. While Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long led an hours-long prelude to kickoff, the real hype was, as always, reserved for the commercials.

This year, one of the most popular of the Super Bowl ads was created by Kingston High alum David Povill.

Volkswagen’s “The Force,” was co-created by Povill, a 1997 KHS grad and a senior copywriter with Deutsch LA, the West Coast-based branch of the worldwide ad agency Deutsch Inc. In the Volkswagen spot, a 6-year-old boy dressed as Star Wars villain Darth Vader attempts to use the sci-fi movie series’ version of telekinesis to move a variety of objects in his family’s home. Growing increasingly exasperated, the boy makes one last-ditch effort in the driveway with his parents’ Volkswagen Passat. To his amazement, his dramatic gesticulations actually start the car. The scene moves inside the house, where his father is seen using a remote key to start the car.

The spot struck a chord with viewers; in part, Povill said, because it contained some appealing ingredients that cast a wide net. Still, he was surprised by just how popular the ad was.

“I’m amazed,” he said. “I knew we had bits and pieces that were going to make for a more well liked spot: We had Star Wars, a cute little kid, a dog. But not in a million years did I expect this.” 

Leading video-on-demand website Hulu conducted a survey after the Super Bowl to gauge the popularity of the ads which aired, and “The Force” ranked consistently among the highest: No. 1 Overall Most Liked Ad; No. 1 Overall Most Liked Ad By Women; No. 2 Overall Most Liked Ad By Men; No. 2 Most Viewed Ad; No. 1 Most Liked in the West and Midwest; and No .2 Most Liked in the East and South.  

The ad actually generated a considerable amount of pre-game buzz as well, with its 60-second iteration causing a sensation online with over 12 million views. If you have a Facebook account, chances are you saw several of your friends drop it into their news feed.

Initially, Povill wasn’t convinced releasing the spot early was a good idea.  

“That was a decision that was pushed by Volkswagen more so than Deutsch,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, releasing it early was crazy. But it was a shrewd move on their part. It was a sort of rule-changer as sort of how companies are going to go about marketing their Super Bowl ads.” 

Though the spot has become a sensation all across the country, it came from humble origins.  

“At the time I was working with a freelance art director,” Povill said. “It was a great partnership. Literally every day we would walk across to Coffee Bean, sit outside and shoot ideas back and forth. My version of the story is, I was a little kid, and as soon as he said, ‘What about a kid dressed as Darth Vader?’ I knew we were on to something. It was one of the most collaborative pieces I’ve ever worked on and it was really just sitting outside of Coffee Bean watching kids run around.” 

Though the first film was released in 1977, the Star Wars franchise continues to be a staple of popular culture and series creator George Lucas is very protective of the brand. Still, Povill and Deutsch were able to hit the ground running based on an initial conference call with Lucasfilm.  

“I wasn’t setting up calls or anything, but our first call to Lucas I was in on, and they were hugely excited about it,” Povill said. “Their main issue was timing, but they were very receptive. They greenlit the idea pretty quickly. You get an e-mail saying Lucas loved it, and I don’t know if that means George Lucas loved it, but it was still pretty exciting.”  

Though some teachers in Kingston remember Povill having an affinity for writing ads, he said it didn’t occur to him until he was already in college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

“To be perfectly honest, when I was doing it in 7th grade, I had no interest in advertising,” he said. “It wasn’t until I was in the middle of college until I made the switch. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be doing. I knew I wanted to do marketing, but I didn’t realize it wasn’t going to be fun. I was talking to a buddy of mine in the journalism school, sat in on a class and in my junior year I switched to the journalism school.”  

At around the same time, Povill began writing a bi-weekly column in the college newspaper, the Daily Tarheel.  

“That was the first time I’d done any writing since English class in high school,” he said. “I’m not a writer buy instinct. There’s no novel in me that was waiting to come out or anything. I knew I wanted to do marketing, but I was always a math and science nerd.”  

Povill graduated from the University of North Carolina with a B.S. in Advertising, moving on to the Virginia Commonwealth University’s advertising program for his Masters’ degree.  

“It was a portfolio school, a two-year finishing school,” he said. “The graduate program is kind of ridiculous for what I was doing for those two years, but they basically groom you for success.” 

Povill broke in as a freelancer, worked on campaigns for different shops before turning a part time gig at Deutsch LA into a full time job as a senior copywriter. Experiences along the way helped show him what the business was really all about.  

“I always say, the job was much more fun back in school when I didn’t know anything about clients, he said, adding that the sheer amount of work involved might surprise some. It was during his time with Crispin Porter + Bogusky that he hit his stride, but only after they shuttered his original office and moved him to Miami.  

“Nothing could have prepared me for that,” he said. “It’s considered one of the hardest-working shops in the business, and I looked at it as boot camp. And I am amazed that every other shop I’ve been to since then still tries to work me as hard. It’s a crazy business as far as the amount of passion you have to put into it. At the end of the day, you think to yourself, ‘I’m just making an ad’. It’s a very busy business; even the Friday before the Super Bowl, I’m sitting in an editing bay at 1 a.m.” 

Though he didn’t consider advertising as a career option until much later, Povill recalls his first fascination with an ad campaign came during his time in Kingston, where before KHS, he studied at Harry L. Edson Elementary and J. Watson Bailey Middle School. 

“When I was a kid, I used to collect all the Absolut Vodka ads I could get my hands on,” he said. “Those, and some ads for Penn tennis balls.”  

Povill cites recent ads by Sony and Levi’s as standing out, the latter called “Oh Pioneers” that used a recitation of a Walt Whitman poem.  

“It just gives me chills every time I watch it,” Povill said.  

Asked if he had any words of wisdom for kids in Kingston who might like to follow his lead and break into the world of advertising, Povill offered the following:  

“It’s not going to sound new or prophetic or anything, but growing up in Kingston is no different than growing up anywhere else,” he said. “The opportunities to succeed are there. I personally think Kingston High School was excellent. There’s great teachers there to get you to where you want to go. You have to seek it out, be willing to work and be willing to be up in an editing bay at 1:30 in the morning.”
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