Earlier this year Bud Light released "Coin," a 90-second Super Bowl spot about a man who gets to play a real-life game of Pac-Man. That man is 30-year-old Riley Smith, who signed up for a Bud Light Focus group and wound up being chased by ghosts in one of the most-watched ads of 2015.
Adweek sat down with Smith at Bud Light's Whatever, USA party in Catalina Island, Calif., this weekend. Here's how he unwittingly became the star of EnergyBBDO's brilliant stunt.
Adweek: How did this all happen?
Riley Smith: They did a series of focus groups on me. They did two and then they said, "Hey, if we call you back there's a main focus group called a Super Group, and we'd want you to come to that, but it's on a certain date." I got a call back the night before and they were like, "Hey we have a Super Group tomorrow night if you're up for it." I walked into it, and they blew my mind.
Where was it?
It was at Pattern Bar in downtown Los Angeles. They don't show it in the commercial, but I was talking to that bartender for a while and telling her my day, like, "We're supposed to meet people here [for Bud Light] and I don't know what they look like." When we finished all that, she was like, "If I gave you this bottle would you be up for whatever?" Nothing still clicked. I was like, "Yeah sure," because I was just in the moment. For a minute I thought I was on a game show. L.A., you know? Game show, for sure. But then I realized something was going down here. It was insane. Insane.
Did you know you were being filmed the whole time?
Right when the door [to the Pac-Man set up] opened I knew I was being filmed. Before that, at the bar and walking across the street, I had no clue that they were filming anything at all. Right when I put the coin in and the doors opened, this camera boom came down. My friends said they would've run. It was either run or go inside. But when you feel that energy when the doors open, you go inside. After that it was just mayhem.
What was the process like after you shot the Pac-Man stunt? How involved were you?
They called me the day before they aired the 15-second teaser. They called me, and they were like, "Hey just want to let you know it's going to be a Super Bowl commercial, and you're going to be in a teaser tomorrow." I was at work—I'm a house manager in Beverly Hills. I got the call and was just stunned. It was unreal. How did this happen to me? It's like winning the lottery. I get recognized by people now. And here [at Whatever, USA] especially everyone shouts "Pac-Man" at me. It's a trip.
Did you get to go to the Super Bowl?
I got to go to the actual Super Bowl. Great seats. I was sitting there at the Super Bowl, and at one point one of the guys from AB In-Bev tapped my shoulder and pointed up at the jumbotron, and boom. The commercial plays on the jumbotron at the Super Bowl. That's when the emotions hit me. I called my mom to tell her I love her. I turned into such a baby because stuff like this never happens to me. I'm just a regular dude trying to do good in life and this comes about, and it's insane.
Do you get to go to all of Bud Light's "Up for Whatever" events now? Are you an unofficial brand ambassador?
I would love to go to these events every time they have one. I think I am an unofficial brand ambassador. That's why I was [at the entrance to the Catalina Island ferry] so early. I was doing the whole meet and greet thing and brand ambassador type of stuff. I like to hype people up. I like to have a good time. So, why not?
Do you have a contract with the brand now?
I signed a contract, but I'm allowed to do whatever now. It was just a contract for the commercial.
Were you paid for the spot?
They gave me what they gave people for the focus group. It's 1,000 bucks to be part of the focus group. It's crazy though. They changed my life. I'm moving soon. I'm like growing up now.
How has life changed?
My boss is a partner for WME [William Morris Endeavor], so when I got back from Arizona, she told me she'd sent the commercial off to all the commercial agents. I started getting e-mails from managers and agents. I didn't know what to do with it. I sat down with a few of them who said they'd love to work with me. Then I was like, maybe this is a new career for me. They said they liked my look. I'm not an actor. I keep telling them that when I sit down with them. [The agents and managers] tell me that I was so genuine in the commercial. It was 100 percent real, that's why. If I had known, I would have been acting totally different. But [the agents and managers] still like my look. This is a career if I want. [Bud Light] helped me out big time.
Have you seen the John Oliver parody of your spot?
Oh! I did. That guy. My boss texted me that night, and a few other people were texting me about it. The next day I watched it and was like, that's supposed to be me? With that hair? That guy had an afro.
I think it was the comedian Wyatt Cenac.
It was. People tell me I look like him. He looks like me, if anything.
What did you think of the parody?
It's a trip. I guess it's another step up. It's awesome.