Jeep, Bill Murray win USA TODAY's Ad Meter with hilarious 'Groundhog Day' commercial
Part of the mystique of Bill Murray is the fact that he is nearly impossible to contact.
In Hollywood circles where everyone has a publicist, an agent, a business manager or some other kind of representative or assistant, Murray flies solo.
"He doesn't have a phone, doesn't have an agent, doesn't have an email," Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief marketing officer Olivier Francois told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. "He allegedly has an 800 number. You leave a message and maybe he'll call you back."
This was the challenge that Francois faced when his team first came up with the idea for its 60-second Super Bowl commercial, a brilliant reprise of "Groundhog Day" that finished first in USA TODAY's Ad Meter, which ranks Super Bowl ads by consumer rating with voters giving each ad a score from 1 to 10.
It's the first Ad Meter title for the Jeep brand, which had only finished inside the top five once before, in 2013. It also marks the fifth consecutive year in which a first-time winner has finished atop the Ad Meter rankings, which first started in 1989.
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Hyundai finished in a close second with its Boston-themed ad "Smaht Pahk," which featured Rachel Dratch, Chris Evans, John Krasinski and former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The company said it went through 344 original scripts before landing on the one it used in the spot.
Google's "Loretta," in which the 85-year-old grandfather of a real Google employee uses the company's technology to remember his late wife, came in third. A Doritos commercial featuring Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott followed, with Rocket Mortgage's ad starring Jason Momoa wrapping up the top five.
The two political ads that aired during the broadcast, from the campaigns of Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump, finished 60th and 62nd out of 62 commercials, respectively.
None of the ads impressed panelists like Jeep's, which brilliantly revisited the 1993 film "Groundhog Day" in a commercial for Jeep Gladiator, a type of pickup truck. Murray said in a news release that it was his first national television commercial — "and I'm glad that this is my last commercial, as well."
Francois said he realized "a few months ago" that Super Bowl Sunday would fall on Groundhog Day, something the company said has happened only twice in 54 years. ("It's like Haley's comet or something," Francois said.)
Soon, the idea for the spot had crystalized. So Francois reached out to Murray. And then ... nothing.
Weeks and weeks of nothing.
Francois said he had watched YouTube videos of interviews with director Sofia Coppola, in which she said it took her a year to secure Murray's participation in "Lost In Translation." But Francois didn't have a year. He had weeks. And if Murray wasn't going to participate in the spot, Jeep wasn't going to go ahead with it. It all hinged on him.
Fortunately, Francois said, he and Murray went to the same dinner party once upon a time. They have mutual friends, he added.
"It's a miracle, because obviously the guy has no manager. But he has friends," Francois said. "He has no phone number, but his friends have phone numbers."
Murray eventually got back to him and — more importantly — agreed to reprise his iconic role of Phil Connors from the 1993 film "Groundhog Day." So Jeep, in consultation with its ad agency Highdive, got to work.
They recruited other members of the original cast, including Murray's brother Brian Doyle Murray, and returned to the original location: Woodstock, Illinois. They licensed a Sonny & Cher song that plays a prominent role in the movie from Warner Music. And they got the blessing of Sony Pictures, which produced the film, to mirror its themes and characters.
"Everything had to be absoulely authentic to the original," Francois said.
With Murray on board, Jeep secured what is known as a "floating spot" from Fox, meaning the company didn't know exactly when the commercial would air during the game. And a company spokesperson said they didn't even finish shooting the ad until Jan. 26 — a week before the Super Bowl.
Francois said it was all worth it because of Murray, whom he believes is a perfect embodiment of what Jeep represents.
"There's just this sense of freedom in all he pursues," Francois said. "He will do things on his own terms. He's not going to do a commercial, or even a movie, if it is not what he deeply feels like doing. He's adventurous. He's original."
In the spot, which aired late in the fourth quarter, Murray again finds himself living the same day over and over again. The opening scene is pulled straight from the movie, only this time, Murray wakes up in the present day.
"Oh no," he says as he sits up in bed.
The notable difference, from the movie to the commercial, is the presence of the Jeep Gladiator, which transforms Murray from loathing his return to "Groundhog Day" to loving it. He wakes up more excited every day and goes on a series of adventures with the groundhog, from riding bikes and watching fireworks to a comical scene in which Murray plays a game of whack-a-mole while the groundhog watches.
"It's not personal," Murray says in the ad. "It's just a game."
Francois said Murray came up with many of the lines in the commercial off-script and described him as a creative genius. And he admitted it's no secret why Murray agreed to participate. This was as much an homage to "Groundhog Day," 28 years later, as it was a commercial for Jeep. It was as much a tribute to the movie's fans as it was a pitch to buy a pickup truck.
All told, Francois considers the ad to be a product of a few miraculous turns. One is that Super Bowl Sunday aligned with Groundhog Day. The other is that Francois was able to not only get in touch with Murray — an "almost impossible feat" — but that the 69-year-old actor agreed to participate.
"He never did a commercial, never intended to do one," Francois said. "But he did this one, which is a miracle."
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.