Beloved scientist Bill Nye, in his signature bowtie and lab coat, is surrounded by the tools of his trade, including flasks, moon rocks, microscopes and rocket models, on a soundstage in Burbank, Calif.
A freestanding chalk board behind him is covered with numbers, which the affable educator and media star identifies at a glance as Newton’s law of universal gravitation. (He can explain the complex particle theory in detail, of course, but since he’s between takes on a SodaStream commercial, a top-line description will have to do.)
The camera rolls again, and he dives into his lines during the day-long January shoot, with coaching from director Bryan Buckley, a veteran of more than 60 Super Bowl ads.
“Humans are on Mars?” Nye says, staring straight into the lens. “What could this mean?”
“This time, even more blown away,” says Buckley. “Really big!”
“Humans? On Mars?” Nye says, tweaking the dialogue. “This changes everything!”
In the midst of the back and forth, Nye picks up a crimson-colored globe, runs a few new lines and notes a problem that could be disastrous for the spot’s credibility.
“Mars is turning the wrong way,” Nye says of the spinning model. “It’s going backwards. People will notice! They’ll call us out!”
There’s a brief pause to fix the prop error, which Nye jokingly says a short time later could’ve “ended my career” if it made its way into the finished ad from Goodby Silverstein & Partners. The 74-second extended version of the spot (which will run as a :30 in the Big Game), with its twist ending and environmental call to action, debuted today.
That kind of attention to detail, and unabashed geek humor, is what comes with hiring Nye for your Super Bowl ad, say execs at SodaStream, which returns to the game for the first time since 2014 with a spot aimed at repositioning the company as a sparkling water purveyor instead of a DIY soda maker.
Going big with a message of sustainability
The galactic-themed commercial, airing just after halftime, also intends to drive home an eco-friendly message about reducing plastic waste, a topic near and dear to Nye. (The science guy made an internet-breaking video last summer about climate change for John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight that went viral with an urgent, salty warning that, “The planet’s on f-ing fire!”)
The brand was looking for “talk value” from its pricey media buy, which averages this year around $5.6 million, but insisted on the right A-lister. And they learned that Nye was already a fan of their products.
“We didn’t want a celebrity for celebrity’s sake,” Bryan Welsh, general manager of SodaStream USA, says from the Burbank set. “Bill is not a disconnected celebrity play. His connection is authentic.”
The same is true of Alyssa Carson, an 18-year-old astronaut in training who co-stars in the ad as a crew member on the Nero II, a spacecraft that’s central to the fictional yet not-so-far-fetched storyline.
“This young woman has an amazing, inspiring story,” Welsh says of Carson, who plans to be on the first crewed Mars mission in the next decade. “She’s a great addition.”
Finding the right talent and sets
The ad, dubbed “Water on Mars,” gathered star power on both sides of the camera. Along with Buckley, who also directed Hyundai’s Boston-accented “Smaht Pahk” ad for the Feb. 2 broadcast on Fox, the spot’s director of photography is Rodrigo Prieto, multiple Oscar nominee, most recently for The Irishman.
Most of the exteriors were shot in Trona, a desolate mining town in the Mojave, several hours outside Los Angeles, where the rugged landscape is a dead ringer for the surface of the Red Planet.
The rest of the filming happened on the lot at Disney’s headquarters, with green screens behind the talent (for computer-generated footage of the pretend Mars mission) and set pieces snagged from the feature film Ad Astra to create the Nero II space habitat.
The Goodby team came up with the idea of astronauts landing on Mars and discovering water because the scenario “creates enormous, dramatic stakes” that feel Super Bowl-worthy, says Jon Wolanske, creative director.
With a short turnaround, the agency hoped “to make things as premium as possible,” Wolanske says, so viewers would think they’re watching the latest blockbuster trailer.
The commercial itself unfolds like this: Astronauts locate and retrieve a water sample from a Martian crater, making news around the world and setting off speculation about the planet as a habitable, life-sustaining frontier.
But just as the global community and astronomy buffs like Nye start to celebrate the historic finding, there’s an unexpected development back on Nero II. One of the explorers was parched, after all, and that water was handy. (Insert sound of a SodaStream machine firing up here).
One giant leap for mankind quickly becomes “one even giant-er misstep for a man named Mark,” says Margaret Johnson, partner and chief creative officer at Goodby Silverstein.