Chevrolet's Super Bowl "Blackout" was more than a typical ad.
Instead, it was a calculated piece of showmanship, relying on trickery, timing and surprise.
The approach was risky, but it worked. And it gave Chevrolet, which has received its share of criticism for tepid advertising in recent years, very welcome praise.
The spot for the Colorado midsize pickup included a simulated power outage that temporarily turned viewers' TV screens black.
Chevrolet executives, operating with the mindset of Las Vegas showmen, knew they needed to time the screen-distorting stunt perfectly. Paul Edwards, Chevrolet's U.S. vice president of marketing, and his team wondered: Just how long should people stare at their black screens before they're let in on the joke?
Was a 14-second disruption too long?
Was 4 seconds long enough?
The debate wasn't concluded until less than a week before the game, when Chevrolet and NBC settled on 7 seconds. Only then did Chevy pop the question that would lead to its pitch for the Colorado's 4G LTE connectivity: "What would you do if your TV went out?"
The 7-second decision was a crucial one that executives at Chevrolet, ad agency Commonwealth//McCann and NBC wrestled with to coax maximum impact from the commercial.
Chevrolet and Commonwealth executives were fully aware of the emotional tightrope they walked that night. Extend the blackout too long and they'd run the risk of inciting a legion of ticked-off fans.
"Seven seconds was about that magic number where it was enough time to draw people in, but then to give them a big fat smile right after letting them know it was a commercial from Chevrolet," Edwards said. "If we played it out too long, you had the risk of people changing the channel, or shutting off the TV or, honestly, getting mad. I think we played it perfectly. It was a balancing act."