CANMORE – Toyota scored a big touchdown at Super Bowl 56 when the car company’s heartfelt commercial about Brian and Robin McKeever left viewers moved, inspired and wanting to know more about the brothers from Canmore.
On Sunday (Feb. 13), upwards of 100 million viewers watched the auto giant’s TV 60-second spot "Brothers" after kickoff on the local Paralympic cross-country ski legends story with its motto: Start Your Impossible.
“I watched it with a close friend and we both started crying afterwards because suddenly it’s a life distilled into 30 seconds, 60 seconds,” said Brian. “You realize how much you’ve gone through, I think in a certain space and it’s hard-hitting for us in that aspect because it’s concentrated hits that are all there.”
As one of the world’s biggest sporting events, the Super Bowl is known for attention-grabbing, and often, celebrity-loaded commercials.
Toyota’s commercial, which doesn’t feature any new car models, is more of a storytelling focus as it’s the Worldwide Official Mobility Partner of the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.
The commercial is available for viewing online at Toyota's YouTube channel.
From 2002 to 2010, Robin guided Brian when they raced and won 10 Paralympic medals together (seven gold, two silver, one bronze). However, in the ad, it translates how the two made it to that point on screen, starting from children playing to Brian’s Stargardt disease diagnosis at age 19 – a macular degeneration that's made him legally blind – to sighted guide training in the Rockies, and ultimately obtaining athletic glory on the international stage: together.
“The first time we saw it you’re instantly transported back to these moments in time in your life, and the fact that that does it for us, I think, that says a lot for the quality it was and it’s something we’re quite proud of in the end,” said Brian, 42, who also holds the distinction of Canada's most decorated winter Paralympian with 17 medals.
Toyota has architected similar ads with Paralympians previously, such as with Canadian alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft in 2018.
A Team Toyota athlete since last fall, Brian said it was a bit of a surprise when the auto giant called.
Filming for a day in Whistler and Vancouver, B.C., locations, he added it is “quite shocking” how much of their story was put into small spots of 30-second, 60-second and 90-second commercials.
Behind the scenes footage of Toyota's Big Game spot, "Brothers," the story of @brianmckeever and @robinmckeever. Watch the full spot here: https://t.co/4nS4VLMeYd #WinterParalympics #WinterOlympics #Toyota #StartYourImpossible @cdnparalympics @TeamCanada pic.twitter.com/HdVUknj1ur— Toyota Canada (@ToyotaCanada) February 14, 2022
As a broader cultural impact, Brian said he’s been receiving a lot of personal and touching messages from people learning of his story for the first time – many of whom know or are directly touched by someone with Stargardt or a vision ailment.
Brian hopes a commercial like the one about him and Robin helps normalize people living with disabilities into the mainstream.
“That’s the power of film; it brings something to life,” he said. “Representation matters. I’ve never seen it before in this light and the more we’re exposed to things that are different from our own.
“The only way you stop that uncomfortable moment is to be exposed to it again and again and realize it is no big deal and it's nothing different, it’s just a different challenge. It’s hard to ignore a wheelchair, but the more you’re exposed to it, the less you see the wheelchair and the next thing you know you’re only seeing the person as opposed to the disability.”
Robin is the head coach of the Para Nordic Ski team, and Brian will compete in a sixth and final Winter Paralympic Games with sighted guides Russell Kennedy and Graham Nishikawa between March 4-13 in Beijing.