Have you seen Match.com’s latest ad? It is, in a word, gutsy.
In the spot, the devil sulks on his throne in Hell. Then, his phone buzzes: He has a dating site match! Cut to: the devil waiting under a bridge. A young woman approaches with hesitation. “Satan?” she asks, as wistful violin music underscores the scene.
He replies, “Hi…two-zero-two-zero?”
“Please,” she says, “Call me 2020.” They lock eyes and smile.
From there, a beautiful romance unfolds, with Satan and 2020 going on dates where they steal toilet paper and take a selfie in front of a (literal) dumpster fire. The name of the commercial? Match Made in Hell.
It goes without saying that there is serious risk involved in implying that one might find Satan on your dating app. But it turns out Match.com’s big gamble garnered an even greater reward. The ad generated tons of buzz, and the team released an equally hilarious follow-up shortly after the first ad’s debut.
But the key to mastering this daring approach is knowing your audience and making a bold gesture to court them. The new gold standard is to create content that is share-worthy with your target audience, rather than taking the risk of creating a blockbuster commercial that no one will see (or worse: one that goes viral afterward for all the wrong reasons).
General Messaging Just Won’t Cut It Anymore
An interesting trend has arisen with Super Bowl advertising this year. Major brands like Facebook, Little Caesars, and Olay are staying on the bench in 2021. Even Pepsi has pulled traditional advertising for its flagship beverage and thrown all its efforts — and cash — behind its halftime show sponsorship.
When asked about why they were sitting out this year, brands offered a few reasons. Little Caesars’ CMO Jeff Klein cited the immense pressure to say something meaningful in response to the past 12 months. With around 100 million people tuning into the big game, in today’s divisive times, it’s hard to know if there’s one message that could resonate with all of them.
Another major impediment for brands is the rise of streaming. Traditional commercials are becoming less culturally relevant by the day, so why sink millions of dollars into the most expensive ad buy around? The ROI is not what it was even ten years ago.
Instead, brands see the value in a targeted approach. Even if the creative budget for a niche commercial remains about the same as a Super Bowl ad, something daring that goes viral on its own spares you from buying airtime during the big game.
Enter the Colonel and the Devil
So what does this gutsier, more focused future look like? KFC and the aforementioned Match.com ads have provided a roadmap.
In December, KFC announced the launch of a mini-Lifetime movie, starring none other than Mario Lopez as Colonel Sanders, the brand’s founder. Complete with a saucy trailer, the short film hit on all of the common Lifetime movie tropes: lust, betrayal, jealousy, revenge. You know the game.
Like the Match.com ads, this KFC content does not take itself seriously. In fact, in both cases, they’re taking a shot at their own brand. KFC is jokingly implying that its company was founded as part of a juicy affair, and Match.com is insinuating that you could meet the literal devil on its dating app.
This approach might backfire on primetime during the Super Bowl. But on Millennial Twitter, both campaigns were a huge hit.
Why It Works
Advertising like this works because it invites the audience to join in on the joke. People who have been on an internet date or have been forced to watch a Lifetime movie with their grandmother get it.
As social distancing continues to play a prominent role in our lives, our thirst for community and connection has never been stronger. Science shows that laughing together makes people feel closer to each other. When brands invite the audience to laugh along with them, they strengthen the bonds between brand and customer. The brand begins to feel like an old friend.
And what do we do when our friends create something funny online? We share it.
Keep an eye out for brands continuing to push the limits on comedy and messaging in 2021 as they search for new, wild ways to spread their message.