One of the most interesting sketches from this past weekend’s broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” came not during the show, but rather one of its commercial breaks.
Viewers who stuck around during advertisements in the first half of “SNL” no doubt saw cast member Kyle Mooney creating a short video with the use of Google’s Pixel3 smartphone. “This is my video! My funky video!” he chants while cavorting about his apartment. “SNL” colleague Aidy Bryant also made an appearance in the spot, which told viewers it was “Sponsored by Google” in fine print that appeared at the bottom of the screen.
The debut of the commercial marks the latest step in NBC’s efforts to get advertisers to work more closely with “Saturday Night Live.” The script for the Google commercial was written and produced by people at the show, according to a person familiar with the matter. Google has a broader agreement with NBC to have its products and services tied more closely to certain programs, this person said.
“SNL” has long been known for crafting spoof commercials for fake products ranging from “Mom Jeans” to “Little Chocolate Donuts” to “Colon Blow,’ but in April of 2016, NBC announced that the late-night mainstay would run with fewer ads to make the program flow more easily, and would in select instances work with sponsors to make real spots as well. It’s something “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels has approached gingerly. Making the ads play off the program might keep audiences more engaged with what they are seeing, but at the same time, no one wants to blunt the edge of “SNL’s” satire.
“The audience has gotten smaller for commercial television, broadcast television, but I am, as you know, a huge fan of and believe deeply in broadcast television. We are on in all 50 states, and without us, a lot of people would not see this kind of material,” Michaels told Variety in a 2017 interview. “That thing that pays for it are commercials, and I don’t really see it as any kind of a moral crisis.”
“SNL” has a short but colorful history with Madison Avenue. Google’s spot isn’t a first for the show, which in its first season had Chevy Chase, among other cast members, tout Polaroid cameras during certain commercial breaks. Candice Bergen, an early host, was at the time a spokeswoman for the company. There have been other commercial tie-ins over the years. Anyone who watches the show’s first music segment knows Apple has this season run a brief spot afterwards telling viewers to use Siri to find songs by the artist who just performed.
“SNL” tested the idea again in 2009, when the show created three sketches based on a long-running spoof of “MacGyver” called “MacGruber” that were actually commercials for Pepsi. The spots appeared in ad breaks supporting a January “SNL” broadcast, and one of them showed up in NBC’s broadcast a day later of Super Bowl XLIII. In that same year, “SNL” allowed Anheuser Busch InBev to purchase all the national ad time surrounding the program to hawk a brew called Bud Light Golden Wheat. In exchange, the beer-maker sponsored a series of never-before-aired comedy segments from the show’s rehearsals during commercial breaks. More recently, NBC ran a auto commercial showing Cecily Strong and Jay Pharoah using the sponsor’s vehicle to get things ready for a “SNL” sketch.
The recent NBC effort to generate more business by offering the “SNL” crew to devise ads has moved quietly, with media buyers noting that producers are eager to tackle a few efforts, but not dozens of them. In 2017, “Saturday Night Live” placed an Apple laptop – with logo in full display -into one of its sketches, and aired a short graphic before the segment started telling viewers that “promotional consideration” was “furnished by Apple.” Media-buying executives at the time suggested the client was not thrilled with the execution. “SNL” that year also created a bespoke commercial for Verizon, written by Colin Jost and starring Kenan Thompson. But Verizon scrapped the commercial at the last minute, according to people familiar with the matter, citing business reasons. The spot has yet to be seen publicly.
Advertisers have grown more interested in late-night TV in recent seasons, where they are being given more freedom to appear in the shows in hard-to-miss ways. Anheuser and Heineken have sponsored a big bar on the set of James Corden’s “Late Late Show” on CBS, and Sanofi’s allergy medication Xyzal has made an animated spokes-own named Nigel a guest on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” on the same network (and garner mentions on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and TBS’ “Conan,” too). And Google has gotten in on the act, too: In March, it paid CBS for Colbert to create an extra “Late Show” segment about its Nest Hello doorbell rather than cutting away to a traditional ad break.