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. “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.
The spot barely beat out Hyundai’s “Smaht Pahk” commercial in which John Krasinski, Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch, and David “Big Papi” Ortiz marvel over the car’s ability to park itself. Rounding out the Top 5 in voting were Google’s “Loretta,” Doritos’ “The Cool Ranch” and Rocket Mortgage’s “Comfortable,” a spot in which Jason Momoa can be his true self only when he gets home.
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Francois said he realized “a few months ago” that Super Bowl Sunday would fall on Groundhog Day. Soon, the idea for the spot had crystalized. So he 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 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.
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.”
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 miracles. One is that Super Bowl Sunday aligned with Groundhog Day, something the company said has happened only twice in 54 years. 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 email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.