Wonderful Pistachios is launching its largest football campaign to date with a series of darkly comedic ads starring Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
The $55 million campaign, titled “Put A Smile on Your Snackface,” follows a series of ads last year starring Sherman, as well as spots featuring John Cena as Ernie the Elephant.
The new effort takes the comedy in a decidedly darker direction. A series of ads features individuals who have led almost unfathomably unfortunate lives, yet can’t help but smile while eating Wonderful Pistachios.
The ads hinge around absurd scenarios of misfortune, finding comedy in over-the-topic tales of woe, delivered by Sherman and Matthews.
The delivery obviously has a lot in common with Dos Equis’ famed campaign of odd superlatives, which in-house Chief Creative Officer Darren Moran gives a nod to by describing each protagonist as the “anti-Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Take Jim, for instance, who appears to have broken his leg. Not only do tornadoes “chase him,” he also saw someone else’s life flash before his eyes during a near death experience and his daughter’s first words were, “This isn’t working, Jim.”
Maybe she learned that phrase from his third wife, who ran off with his second wife.
A series of other 30- and 15-second spots feature similarly unfortunate individuals, who are still able to bliss out while chowing down on Wonderful Pistachios.
Moran returned to Wonderful Agency in May after serving as chief innovation officer for Grey New York, following a previous stint at the brand as interim CCO during which time he developed the “Good Choice, Kid” campaign for Wonderful Halos.
Moran told Adweek that he “hasn’t looked back” since re-joining Wonderful Agency. “It’s such a different experience being in-house,” he said. “All the problems that agencies and holding companies have to deal with went away, and it’s about the work again.”
For the “Put A Smile on Your Snackface” campaign, Wonderful Agency had their NFL stars picked out before the concept was created, letting the creative team build an idea that entertainingly contrasts the spokesmen’s success.
With Sherman and Matthews representing “winners” with amazing careers, personal and financial success, Moran asked, “Who is the opposite of them, and what would their life be like?” and arrived at what he believes is a “universal idea that goes beyond football.”
He also wanted to avoid a dry focus on the benefits of eating pistachios.
“The challenge was I didn’t want to make a straight, medicinal health message,” Moran said. “It had to be entertaining first and foremost and had to feel like a snack before a ‘good for you snack.'”
With the “plug and play” concept developed, Moran kept a basket on his desk and required his copywriting team to leave five lines in the basket every day before leaving, including once they started shooting the spots. Moran estimates that while 25 to 30 lines made it into the ads, they wrote close to 1,000.
His favorite line in the campaign, the last-second kicker Matthews delivers in “Benny”—”Olga mailed herself back to Russia. No one is coming.”—was written on the spot, and in fact he estimates that nearly a third of the final lines were written on set during shooting.
Originally, Wonderful Agency’s “lovable losers” were planned to tell their own stories, but Moran and his writers soon realized it would be better to have Sherman and Matthews functioning as a sort of Greek chorus telling their tales of misfortune while they chomped away, blissfully unaware.
Moran said Sherman and Matthews were “awesome guys to work with” and that he actually had to ask them to dial back their professionalism a bit so that their delivery would sound more detached and unpolished.
“They wanted all the scripts to rehearse and study ahead of time,” he said. “I didn’t want them to do that. I wanted them to feel like it was the fifth PSA they had to do as part of some contract.”
When first presenting the campaign, Moran said the reaction was always the same. The first script would get a few nervous laughs. Then the second presentation would elicit harder laughter and the third would have everyone laughing hysterically.
The darkly comedic approach required a delicate balance.
“There were a couple of times where we wondered if we were going too far,” Moran said.
“We never wanted it to seem like we were making fun of customers or kicking people when they were down. A lot of lines we didn’t include because they felt like they crossed the line,” he added.
He described the goal for the characters’ various absurd misfortunes as “things that technically could happen, but wouldn’t.”
The spots were originally intended not to have music, but the result, Moran said, was that they were “almost too dark.”
“They needed music to let people know it was OK to laugh,” he said.
The original brief was for a digital campaign but the company was pleased enough with the results to go in on a full NFL national broadcast buy. Digital, print, PR, in-store and POS elements will support the broadcast spots, which debut on Sept. 10, as Sherman and Matthews face off when the Seahawks play the Packers in the first week of the season.They will continue to air during primetime NFL games and online sports sites throughout the season as part of a larger campaign that also includes the return of Cena as Ernie the Elephant.
Should the campaign prove a success with audiences, Moran thinks it could possibly be “much bigger than just football season” as the approach could extend beyond NFL stars to any paragon of success. For their part, Sherman and Matthews have expressed interest in returning for future “Put a Smile on Your Snackface” efforts.
“This work represents how we’re continuing to evolve the agency,” Moran said. “There’s a history of work that pushes boundaries. What I love about this kind of work and process is that it’s the way I came up in the business, how much fun it was creating great work without all the stuff that gets in the way of that. When you free people up to do great work, they’re going to do great work.”