How Embarrassing Email Mistake Became Ad Man's Great Success

How Bill Cochran's Email Blunder Became the Inspiration for a Super Bowl Ad

ByABC News
November 8, 2012, 3:56 PM

Nov. 9, 2012 — -- In the advertising world, producing a commercial that runs during the Super Bowl is like, well, winning the Super Bowl. When creative director Bill Cochran pitched an idea that Bridgestone Tires liked enough to air during the 2010 game, it was a career-defining moment.

"It was huge," said Cochran. "To have something on the biggest stage for advertising meant the world to me."

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Cochran was soon to have another career-defining moment. It involved coming up with a new spot for Bridgestone's Super Bowl campaign the following year. Bill's boss at the Dallas-based Richards Group sent out a mass email to more than one hundred creative directors, art directors, copy writers and producers at the agency, assigning them to teams that would compete against one another to come up with a winning campaign.

"On something as juicy as a Super Bowl spot, it, it gets a little more cutthroat around here," admitted Cochran. "I just saw that list and I was like, 'Okay, we gotta get fired up.'"

Intending only to inspire his art director, Patrick Murray, Cochran sent out an email rating their competition. In it he used language that can only be described as colorful. "There are words you might say in a locker room about another team," explained Cochran, "And there are words you might say at a press conference. I used locker room words."

After sending the email Cochran went about his day until he got a phone call minutes later from a copywriter named Wendy Mayes."Oh, God, Bill!" a horrified Mayes told Cochran. "You sent that to all! You replied to all!"

"Within moments, "said Cochran, "you could hear some cackles and laughter."

Cochran's R-rated email had been sent to more than one hundred people, many of whom were described unfavorably in it. Some of them felt compelled to write back to Cochran.

"The most memorable," recalled Cochran, "Was just the one-word email that just said, 'Moron.'"

READ: '20/20' Viewers Share Their Hilarious Email Mistake Stories

But the 17-year-veteran creative director had more than his reputation to worry about. He also had his career.

"I'm gonna get fired for this," a panicked Cochran thought at the time. "I'm gonna lose my job, I'm gonna have to move, I'm gonna have to start over. I have undone all of this in one stupid click."

Not so, said his boss, Richards Group founder Stan Richards.

"You don't get fired for making a mistake," said Richards of his agency. "You accept mistakes, you accept going in a wrong direction, you accept taking risk, and then living with the consequences of that."

Cochran's marching orders from Richards were simply to get to work. After brainstorming a number of concepts for a Super Bowl spot, Cochran had a light bulb moment. He went to the clients with a fresh idea: to shoot a commercial about a guy who believes he mistakenly hit "reply all" in an email response and then races around in his car -- which of course, runs on Bridgestone tires -- trying to stop colleagues from seeing the email.

"This is the funniest commercial I've ever done," says Cochran. "In advertising, you always try to search for universal truths. If it hasn't happened to you, on some measure, usually someone knows someone it has happened to."

Bridgestone Tire executives liked the "Reply All" idea, so Cochran and his team produced the spot. It ran during the 2011 Super Bowl.

Lesson learned, Cochran now says he reveals his innermost thoughts only one way: "In person."

Watch more on "20/20: Workplace Confidential" TONIGHT at 10 p.m. ET.