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First, how do you make an ad about ads?

30 years of bad life choices. But that’s the long version. 

The short version is luck, timing, a bold client and a team who watches way too many ads hell bent on bringing our self-indulgent fantasies to life. There are very few arenas where something as meta as an ad about ads could, or should, exist, and lucky for us, the Super Bowl is one of them. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a four-hour-long, logo-heavy, branded content extravaganza peppered with approximately 11 minutes of actual football gameplay. People are there for the ads as much as the game (or so we’d like to think), and the competition between brands is so widely acknowledged, that it gives you a little license to be as self-referential to the industry as It’s a Tide Ad was.

Tide – It's A Tide Ad

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Why David Harbour? He’s not exactly a comic actor. 

It’s like my CCO, Levi Slavin, said in my last pay review: “Comedy is best when it’s serious.” Despite terrible timing, he speaks of comedy’s eternal truth. To that end, we set out to find a lead who could make the leap to comedy rather than borrow off an actor’s existing comedic credibility. We were looking for someone to do what actors like Christopher Walken and Alec Baldwin have done so well – once serious, even menacing actors they made the transition to comedy and their serious history made the comedy so much richer. 

I always feel the best comedy is full of mischief.

David Harbour felt like someone who could deliver that kind of transition. The approach worked twofold, as it meant we could avoid tipping viewers off too early and keep the misdirect going until we’d delivered the concept. 


Why do you think David was so good in that role?

We’re actually great friends now. Mr. Harbour (as he affectionately makes me call him) was perfect for the role. He had the authority to command an increasingly ridiculous reality, while finding the balance between being naturally mischievous and also pretty imposing if he wants to be – he’s 6’3” tall. 

 I think what some people view as “playing it safe” is the biggest risk a brand can take. 

If you look at his shifts in character in It’s a Tide Ad - from a suave car spokesperson, to beer bro, to mattress model, to family figure, to menacing-horror-cut reveal guy in the razor vignette – he nailed each of them. I was in awe the entire time. I have to give kudos to Traktor at this point for capturing all the madness in a way that made sense. An impossible job on an impossible timeline, but they did it beautifully.

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Tide – Clydsedales/Mr Clean

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Tide – Tennis

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Tide – Get Off My Horse

These ads are ironic and slightly nostalgic - how did you hit that medium?

Ordinarily, the fact that 95% of advertising is terrible, repetitive trash makes me cry super-sad ad-tears. However, in this instance, it provided a bounty of clichés for us to parody. Even in the Super Bowl, where brands pay north of five million dollars for a single spot, we were pleasantly surprised by the plethora of ‘traditions’ that had been repeated year on year. 

Irony going too far would be ironic in itself and probably create a hilarious campaign.

As for hitting the right tonal balance, it was mostly due to a classic cocktail of trial, error and luck. Over the course of a few thousand scripts for various products and brands, we found that most advertising is already a parody of itself and we just had to follow the most established conventions, then yell “Tide Ad!”


Why do clichés in advertising stick around? 

It’s usually a case of brands trying to replicate past successes. They figure if an approach worked once, repeating it again is a way of playing it safe. Personally, I think what some people view as “playing it safe” is the biggest risk a brand can take. For example, when my wife and I had our first child everything was surprising and new. Fast forward to us trying to replicate that success with child two and three, and the whole concept just feels tired and done, like we were just trying to replicate the joy of the first kid. It’s really taught me the value of keeping things original.

Skittles – Super Important Super Bowl News

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What makes a good comic ad? 

There are the timeless elements of comedy – like universal truths, relatable observations, and pointing out something that people didn’t realize they knew about themselves – but I always feel the best comedy is full of mischief. Someone has to be getting away with something. It can be a character in the spot with an ulterior motive, or even the brand itself, but someone has to be getting away with something cheeky. 

It’s like my CCO, Levi Slavin, said in my last pay review: “Comedy is best when it’s serious.” 

I’m referring to conceptual comedy rather than executional comedy. While I do love script comedy – so much so that it should take a restraining order out on me – starting with a cheeky concept will deliver a better end product. It also means by the time you get to writing the script, half the comedy work is already done. 

For example, with DB Export’s I’m Drinking It For You from Colenso BBDOexplores the concept of drinking a low carb beer not for yourself but for someone you love was in itself comedically rich, and the script writing simply needed to build on that and run with the joke.

DB – I'm Drinking It For You

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Can irony be taken too far in advertising?

Never. Irony going too far would be ironic in itself and probably create a hilarious campaign. 

Is this a Tide Ad? 

Given the state of my wardrobe, I don’t think the lawyers at P&G would approve it.  

Big shout out to Javi, Paul, Jacopo, Erin, Maddy, Daniel, Raf, Kiko, Dani, Nick, Ryan, Jen, Guillermo, Jen, the wonderful Tide clients and Traktor. Impossible is everything!

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