If you saw the beloved The Force commercial where a young boy dressed as Darth Vader turns on his father’s Volkswagen using the power of his mind (one of the most iconic Superbowl commercials of all time), then you know the work of Tim Ellis. If you ever watched a Got Milk? Campaign or have seen an advertisement for the NFL in the past four years, including the 100 Year Game commercial where a slew of NFL standouts were clad in tuxedos, then you know the work of Tim Ellis.
Tim was born and raised in Stockton, a 1979 graduate of Lincoln High School (where he was recently inducted into the hall of fame for his success in marketing) who played football and performed in theater productions, an odd combination at the time. “When I joined, I don’t think there were any athletes there,” he says of LHS’ theater department. “When I left, several of the most successful athletes at LHS were [in theatre].”
After high school, Tim attended an artist conservatory in Southern California, driven to his audition by one of his LHS teachers, Paul Barnes. He eventually decided, however, that acting wasn’t the life he wanted, so he packed his bags and headed to Paris. For five years, Tim traveled the world working odd jobs such as a hand on an oil rig, an actor in Tokyo, an au pair in Paris, a bartender on a cruise ship, and a tractor driver in Israel. “That ended up being probably the smartest thing I ever did,” he says.
After heading back to the states, Tim received his bachelor’s in journalism with a marketing emphasis from San Diego State University. He began work at a local ad agency in 1990 before relocating to San Francisco to work at Goodby Silverstein where he worked on the Got Milk? campaign. “Everything went really well for me in those early years,” Tim recalls.
From there, he held marketing positions at Volkswagen, Volvo, and Activision. At the latter he won the coveted Adweek Brand Genius Award. His The Force commercial won Adweek’s “Ad of the Year” in 2011. He’s also taken home the Grand Effie Award for the most effective campaign in the U.S., and the Cannes Lions Titanium award.
In 2018, Tim started at his current gig as chief marketing officer for the NFL, and his life truly came full circle. “I loved how football was so connected to the community. I remember, as a boy, going with my dad to the games at LHS… I remember as a player how close I was to my teammates on the team,” Tim says. “I always felt like football brought people together, it united people. I just love the game.”
His position means he oversees all of the marketing efforts put on by the NFL, and some of his biggest successes include the change he has been able to infuse into the league through his work.
Tim’s work provides a more human and compassionate approach to brand marketing. Called the “helmets off” strategy, it was his idea to focus on the players as the face of the NFL by showing them out of uniform or at least not as faceless athletes. He also started integrating societal issues into the advertising campaigns.
His other goal has been “to have a more youthful, more energetic approach to marketing for their brand” by integrating music, fashion, and gaming into their campaigns. His efforts are made obvious by what we’ve all seen on our televisions in the past four years: advertisements that feature wide receiver and gaming fanatic Juju Smith-Schuster and Ninja (the biggest YouTube gaming influencer in the world), a TikTok tailgate campaign with Miley Cyrus, and the NFL’s newest ad, featuring Lil Wayne at a high school pep rally.
“When I had a chance to go to the NFL, I jumped,” Tim says. “I wanted to make a difference on the NFL. I wanted to put my imprint on [it].”
At the same time, Tim is focused on propelling promising youth both in Stockton and beyond. Just last year he participated in a Zoom call with a third-grade class at LHS to answer questions about marketing. He also prides himself on inviting young associates to conferences to discuss future marketing trends, giving them a voice and an opportunity they may not otherwise have.