The Story Behind Honda’s Matthew Broderick Ad

Who thought of Ferris, and why no Cameron?

Headshot of David Griner

Honda's pitch-perfect homage to Ferris Bueller's Day Off has quickly become one of the most talked-about Super Bowl ads in recent history—and it hasn't even aired on TV yet. As the extended version of the spot became a YouTube smash and a top trending topic on Twitter, we reached out to the agency behind the ad, Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA. While it has a strong reputation in the industry for its 25 years of work with Honda, the agency has largely remained under the radar. That could all change on Super Bowl Sunday, as its contribution takes its place as one of the night's top spots. So, how did this sequel of sorts come about? Get the scoop after the jump.


RPA executive creative director Joe Baratelli (pictured here) tells AdFreak that the agency wanted an ad that celebrated the redesigned Honda CR-V as a car for enjoying life, not just for running chores: "When we found out the timing of the launch of the CR-V, we felt it would be a great tent pole for the entire campaign, which centers around making a list of things you want to do before the things you have to do. Before you make a leap, make a list.

     "We opened up the idea generation to the whole department. It was a younger team that came up with the idea of Ferris Bueller. The film embodies the theme of getting out and doing stuff. And our client saw the potential of tapping into the fandom of Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the Super Bowl.

     "We started talking with Paramount and Broderick's people and decided we wanted a feature comedy director. That's when Todd Phillips came on board, all the while improving the script. We all wanted to be respectful of the original movie. 

     "Then the strategy of how to roll it out came about. We knew we were going to do an extended cut before the Super Bowl. But we wanted to create some buzz before we released that. The :10 spot came from that idea of creating mystery around Broderick and his role. And, we're excited that three of 10 top trending topics [on Twitter] are related to the spot right now."

One of the subtle ideas that keeps the spot from sullying the original movie is that it's not actually a sequel to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. We asked Baratelli if there was ever a script that made the character Bueller instead of Broderick.

     "It was always Matthew Broderick. We felt it was more interesting and believable to have it be about him, as an actor, paralleling the movie. A real person skipping work and having an adventure fit in with the campaign and the Honda brand better, rather than trying to recreate the Ferris Bueller character."

While the ad was largely adored by viewers when it debuted online Monday, some Ferris fans had their gripes. The most common complaint was that a CR-V is hardly on par with a Ferrari 250GT California (the car from the movie). Other fans were sad to find no trace of Bueller's stoic sidekick, Cameron Frye. Actually, Baratelli says actor Alan Ruck, who played Cameron, almost made the cut to reprise his role, but he didn't make the final script:

     "There was an early iteration of the script with Mr. Ruck where Matthew made a quick call to him. Ultimately there are so many great scenes in the original movie to work from, we needed to streamline the story."

The final product has been a clear success, especially coming so far in advance of the Super Bowl. But national news coverage of the spot has largely omitted any reference to RPA as the agency behind the ad. Baratelli says he's not too concerned about the publicity going exclusively to Honda.

     "Buzz is good, and it's great to get recognized for doing stellar work. But we try to shine the light on our clients rather than us. That's our job," he said.

See Adweek's full Super Bowl coverage here.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."