Mega-advertiser Procter & Gamble doesn’t want to wait until February to start playing in the Super Bowl.
Football fans don’t even know which two teams will play in Super Bowl LVII, slated to be broadcast on Fox on Sunday. February 12 from Arizona. But they may soon have lots of familiarity with one of the products that will be advertised during the Big Game.
Staring Monday, Procter will launch a new Super Bowl campaign for its Downy fabric softener that will give consumers a preview of what may be in store for them in days to come. A skeptical celebrity will start to appear in social-media vignettes openly wondering if he should sign on to endorse Downy Unstoppables, a line of laundry beads with scents P&G says can last as long as 25 weeks. The potential spokesman wants to test those claims in advance of Super Bowl kickoff, and consumers can follow along via a series of TV commercials and digital-media appearances to see if he does. A Downy Super Bowl ad is scheduled to air in the second quarter of the game.
“I don’t know if we’ve had many brands release their content for the Super Bowl this ahead of time, says Jenny Maxwell, senior brand director for fabric enhancers at P&G North America Fabric Care. When it comes to advertising in the event, she adds, “you can’t just have one moment in time. You have to drive engagement through the length of the entire” marketing effort.
Procter’s early-bird special is likely to add fodder to a long-simmering debate: When should Super Bowl advertisers start to discuss their work?
For decades, big advertisers stayed quiet about Super Bowl moves, believing that the surprise of seeing a funny sketch or surprising celebrity would get people talking immediately. Such attitudes changed, however, in 2011, when Volkswagen unveiled a Super Bowl spot a week before Game Day featuring a young boy working to emulate the evil powers of Darth Vader while the strains of “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars” played in the background. The maneuver generated scads of viral pass-along and lots of conversation. GoDaddy, the online vendor of domain names, used to try to generate buzz for its sometimes edgy Super Bowl campaigns by telling followers about its work to gain approval from TV networks for its ad concepts.
Super Bowl promotion typically starts to rev up after the winter holidays, in the belief that consumers are largely focused on gift-giving before the New Year. On the other hand, the absence of chatter about the NFL’s end-of-season spectacular has Downy executives seeing plenty of white space. “We are disrupting in a way that is ahead of everyone else,’’ says Ciro Sarmiento, chief creative officer at the Woven Collaborative, an agency devoted to P&G’s fabric care businesses, at Saatchi & Saatchi.
Procter has in recent years worked to surprise Super Bowl fans, particularly with clever commercials for Tide laundry detergent. In 2018, Super Bowl viewers witnessed a plethora of ads for Tide disguised as spots for beer, Old Spice or Mr. Clean. In 2017, Fox sports anchor Terry Bradshaw appeared on screen in the second quarter with what seemed to be a noticeable stain on his shirt. Within minutes, a Tide commercial showed Bradshaw scrambling to get the blemish off his wardrobe. The detergent helped.
Executives vow to give followers of the Downy campaign a lot to discuss. Having the celebrity play the skeptic will “generate a lot of curiosity,” says Sarmiento, with viewers eager to see if the Downy product passes his sniff test. As things move forward, says Maxwell, “new characters will be introduced. There will be new easter eggs.”
P&G may also pivot based on consumer reaction to its efforts. The final spot set to appear during the Super Bowl won’t be filmed until January. Meantime, says Sarmiento, “there’s a lot of conversation that this can spark.”
Who is the famous person? Procter declined to say much, other than to describe him as “bold” and “feisty,” attributes it feels are emblematic of Downy’s brand personality. Even a preview of the first spot provided to a reporter utilized a voice-over instead of the celebrity’s actual tones.