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Advertising Alumnus's Honda Ad a Winner During Super Bowl

"The Power of Dreams" campaign features celebrities before they were famous

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Comic book writer Stan Lee advises, “If you want to make a universe, make a universe,” in Honda’s “The Power of Dreams” campaign that aired during Super Bowl 51. Image courtesy of Britt McColl.

Before they were household names, many American celebrities had their fashion faux pas and bad hairstyles memorialized in high school yearbooks, just like the rest of us. Jason Sperling, senior vice president and executive creative director of ad agency Rubin Postaer and Associates, tapped into this rite of passage for the popular Super Bowl commercial his team created for Honda’s latest campaign, “The Power of Dreams.” The ad also introduced viewers to the car manufacturer’s latest version of its top-selling utility vehicle, the CR-V.

“Honda is a company that has this idea of the power of dreams in their DNA,” explained Sperling, who graduated from Academy of Art University’s advertising program in 1996. “When the CR-V first came out in 1997, there were lots of giant trucks and sedans out there, and it was this weird middle thing. But it was a dream they kept chasing. We thought that idea of chasing a dream for a long time and not giving up was really interesting. It lead us to that time in our lives—back in high school for many of us—when we all had dreams.” 

Funny, poignant and clever, the memorable commercial uses animation to bring actual yearbook photos of celebrities including Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Magic Johnson, Robert Redford and Viola Davis to life. From the pages of a single yearbook, they share inspiring advice on persevering to achieve your dreams.

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Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director of Rubin Postaer and Associates and Academy of Art University School of Advertising alumnus Jason Sperling. Photo courtesy of Jason Sperling.

 “In some ways, we were all on common ground back then,” said Sperling. The cool folks were not so cool. People who rose to the top of their careers were just like us—another car on the road, so to speak—and got where they are through their tenaciousness and desire to do whatever it was they wanted to do.”

Sperling and his team put together a wishlist of celebrities they wanted in their yearbook. He noted that it was important for RPA to have a range of people representing diversity in gender, race, age and profession.

“We didn’t have barrels of money to get people to buy into the idea,” he remarked. “It was risky because they had to be comfortable showing themselves in a vulnerable place before they underwent their Hollywood makeovers.”

He was pleasantly surprised by how many of the celebrities he wanted for the ad were eager to do it and record their own voiceovers.

Viola Davis, who just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the movie Fences, was a favorite because her transformation from high school to the present was so dramatic. 

“We wanted yearbook photographs like that instead of something showing a star with the same beautiful face they have today,” explained Sperling. 

The yearbook commercial wasn’t his first trip to the Super Bowl. Although he’s created three other spots for Honda that aired during the football extravaganza, he still feels the pressure of having to come up with something truly special that will resonate with millions of viewers.

“There are so many brands competing for attention during Super Bowl—it’s a tough place to try and stand out,” Sperling said. “I’m always very nervous that we could fail on a massive scale. But there’s something thrilling about it, too. You have the ability to come up with a big moment versus just another commercial. That’s why you can’t do something too quiet or familiar. Only really brave, exciting ideas stand out.”

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Viola Davis. Image courtesy of Britt McColl/Jason Sperling.

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Tina Fey. Image courtesy of Britt McColl/Jason Sperling.

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Steve Carell. Image courtesy of Britt McColl/Jason Sperling.

Among the Super Bowl ads he’s worked on, Sperling is especially fond of the yearbook spot because of its inspiring message. “It was definitely something I could relate to given how hard it is to make it in the advertising industry,” he said. 

A close second was the 2012 commercial inspired by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Creating that ad was a labor of love that gave him the opportunity to watch actor Matthew Broderick recite lines from his favorite movie in person. 

Sperling appreciates the Academy for helping him develop the tenacity required to make it in advertising. His studies also helped him find his voice and learn to identify good and bad work. 

“You’ve got so much out there that you’re comparing yourself to, which can be tough, especially in an industry that’s so hard to break into,” he said. “The Academy helped me find my footing and has been a great resource ever since. I still keep in touch with my [instructors] and have also taught there.”

Sperling advises current students to squeeze everything they can from every class they take. He also encourages them to help others succeed as they pursue their own career success. One way Sperling practices what he preaches is by doing pro-bono work for nonprofits. He’s especially excited about a current project for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. 

“We’re partnering with about a dozen visual effects companies to try and put together a program that will make this whole experience a little brighter for these kids,” he said.