by Matt Konkle
Bill Murray doesn’t take phone calls. Or email. He reportedly doesn’t retain an agent, either, and only gives out a 1-800-number to people who want to hire him for a role.
So when he appeared in a Jeep advertisement Sunday during the NFL Championship game, a first for Murray, you knew the commercial was going to be good. It had to be good because Murray is very particular about the roles he takes.
And this one did not disappoint, as Jeep based its ad on the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, with Murray reprising his role as weatherman Phil Connors—a guy who keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Except in this ad, he gets to do it with a Jeep Gladiator truck. Fellow actors Brian Doyle Murray and Stephen Tobolowsky also appeared in the spot as their respective characters from the movie.
In fact, the commercial was so well received that USA Today Monday named it this year’s Ad Meter winner. The publication ranked all advertisements from Sunday’s game by consumer rating—with voters giving each commercial a score from 1-10.
The Ad Meter title was Jeep’s first ever, and the brand’s best finish since a fifth-place spot back in 2013.
”In my wildest dreams, any advertiser’s dream, really, could you dare to believe that Bill Murray would agree to be in your Super Bowl commercial, and on top of that, ask him to relive his iconic role in ‘Groundhog Day’?,” said Olivier Francois, Fiat Chrysler’s Chief Marketing Officer. “How do you even have that make sense and not be forced?”
"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."
While Sunday’s ad was a 60-second spot for the game, Jeep released a longer version of the advertisement Monday on its social channels—adding 45 more seconds of interaction between Murray and his co-star groundhog named Poppy, a 10-month-old rescued animal with a birth defect that prevents it from returning to the wild.
The commercial was filmed over three days in Woodstock, Illinois, and only finished up on Jan. 26. The town was also the same location where the original movie was shot.
But it also almost didn’t happen.
Francois realized last fall that the Super Bowl and Groundhog Day would be occurring on the same day for only the second time in 54 years. He then had an idea for a Big Game ad that would recreate the movie, and wanted to cast Murray.
So he wrote a “long” letter describing the idea and gave it to a mutual friend, in hopes that the note would eventually make its way to the actor.
But months went by with no response, so Francois and FCA decided they would scrap the advertisement plan and not appear in the Big Game for the second consecutive year.
“We decided to not go,” said Francois. “And then all of a sudden something happened, and we had to do it ... The timing is really a big part of the magic.”
The something was Murray calling on Jan. 17, stating he would do the commercial—calling it a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” according to Francois.
”The stars magically aligned. Bill agreed to do the first national broadcast commercial in which he’s ever appeared, and not only that, relive his role as Phil Connors for our Jeep Gladiator,” Francois said. “But this time, in our spot, the hero makes a different choice by choosing a different pick-up truck—the Jeep Gladiator—and it changes everything for him.”
The Jeep brand also worked closely with Sony Pictures to ensure authenticity with the original film. This meant filming in the original Bed and Breakfast location from the movie, as well as town square where the Groundhog Day Festival took place and the Woodstock restaurant where Murray’s character toasted to world peace.
The company even licensed the iconic Sonny & Cher song “I’ve Got You Babe” from Warner Music for use in the commercial.
"Everything had to be absolutely authentic to the original," Francois said.
While the locations and visuals closely matched the movie, Murray had the freedom to ad-lib most of his lines as he bounced around on a series of adventures with Poppy the groundhog—much of them unscripted.
“We had three days to make up a commercial,” Francois said. “I say ‘make up’ because not much was scripted. (Murray) made it. His ideas, his lines. In collaboration with his brother.”
"“This is my first commercial," Murray said in a release. "I’m glad I did it with you (Jeep). And I’m glad that this is my last commercial, as well.”