It’s Still a Tide Ad: Revisiting Saatchi’s Super Bowl Campaign, a Month Later

CCO Javier Campopiano on why it worked, and what's next

Tide/Procter & Gamble

A month after their clever, amusing, meta ads won Super Bowl LII, Tide and Saatchi & Saatchi New York are still basking in the afterglow.

For a brand that was struggling mightily with the headache of the so-called “Tide Pod challenge” in the weeks leading up to the game, Super Bowl Sunday was the kind of dream come true it wouldn’t have dared to imagine. But there it was: Under the greatest pressure, they delivered the darling campaign of the evening, thanks to an inspired idea that was as big as the national stage of which it made such good use.

A month later, the campaign’s effect on sales is already notable. A rep for the Procter & Gamble brand says initial sales results show double-digit growth for Tide Ultra Oxi since the game. That follows some impressive metrics from the Super Bowl itself, when #TideAd was used more than 45,000 times and became the No. 2 trending topic on Twitter (second to the Super Bowl itself), and the campaign enjoyed more than 640 individual stories written about it in the media.

For a month-later post-mortem, AdFreak spoke to Saatchi New York chief creative officer Javier Campopiano. We asked him how the idea originally came about, why they chose David Harbour, what his biggest worry was on the night, and what’s next for the #TideAd campaign.

Adweek: It’s been a month since the Super Bowl. Has the excitement worn off yet?
Javier Campopiano: Yes and no. Of course, after a month, you have to focus on all the other stuff you have to do every day. At the same time, we still keep getting good feedback, both from the industry in general and the client itself. They keep praising the campaign, and we’ve been doing some other stuff around it—ads for the Olympics and Valentine’s Day. I think the campaign has more legs than just the Super Bowl, and that’s something that happened because of the good results we had from that night.

What was the vibe leading to the Super Bowl? This was a brand in crisis, given the Tide Pods situation. Was there extra pressure to deliver something special?
The pressure was just the pressure of the Super Bowl. And we had done something really nice [for Tide] last year during the Super Bowl. That idea brought great results for the brand, both in sales and recognition. It won a lot of awards. It was a hard one to beat. And you know this better than me, the Super Bowl is a thing in itself. When you’re briefed for the Super Bowl, the pressure is completely different than the pressure on an everyday assignment. We were trying to come up with an idea as last year’s, not to copycat it, but to have the vibe and feeling of something bigger than just one ad. Something that could be more of a program, that hopefully could own the night.

So the Tide Pods thing wasn’t necessarily on your mind.

Can you pinpoint the moment when someone said, Hey, what about this idea?
It was one of those that come up at the very last minute. We were working at the agency over a weekend. It was a big table of creative people. And one of the creatives, Maddy Kramer, was encouraging another one to share an idea that he didn’t want to share. The guy’s name is Jacopo [Biorcio], he’s from Italy, and he’s kind of a low-key, shy guy. And Maddy was like, “Come on, share that idea! I think that’s a good idea.” And he reluctantly shared the idea. And I thought, OK, that sounds like something that can be a program. All of us in that room felt the same about the potential of the thought. From then on, it took a pretty large and diverse group of creatives to bring the idea to life in great form.

He was reluctant to share the idea because he thought it was too out there?
I think he thought it was kind of silly! I think he was embarrassed. But she encouraged him to share, and everyone around the table thought, OK, this could be the thing. All the people who were there that Saturday, we immediately started thinking about how it could work. Tapping into other brands’ ads, and pirating other categories. The idea immediately came to life in a way that felt really, really big.

It helped that this is a P&G brand with sister brands that have famous campaigns.
We weren’t that sharp at first, to be honest. We were more concerned with coming with an idea that was really good. On Monday, before the presentation, we started thinking of all that stuff. The client was so crazy about the idea that they immediately started those conversations. Which was great, because I think this idea was completely dependent on those other pieces. The 45-second ad is a great ad, and we all love it, but we knew the meat of the idea was in the other pieces.

Right, so you have four ads. And each one builds anticipation for the next.
Yes. I think the good thing about the idea is that it really fits these times. You have people paying attention to so many different screens. It’s an idea that, with this meta element, made people aware that there might be other Tide ads. We actually didn’t have that many ads. We had the :45, and three :15s—with one of those :15s divided into two ads, each seven and a half seconds, stitched together. So, we didn’t do that many. But the notion that any ad could be a Tide ad got people to think, and be aware and alert, and that created an effect that was bigger than the amount of ads we had. People were tweeting, Is this a Tide ad? Is the next one? People were really into it. When we ran the second ad, the Old Spice one, people were like, OK, this is serious! That’s where it became bigger and bigger, and people just rolled with it and were playing with the idea. Which was fantastic, because it’s exactly what we were expecting.

There was a nod to Budweiser, with the Clydesdale, that ended up running right next to the actual Budweiser ad. That couldn’t have been planned.
No, it’s wasn’t. But it was one of those nights when all the stars were aligning. You can’t believe your luck. We were in the war room with all the creatives, and people from the brand, and the media agency, Hearts & Science. You really never know how something’s going to play. But these days, we have the blessing and the curse of knowing everything in real time. You can’t go to sleep and find out the next day. In the past, you could at least have one night of sleep. Now you have that feedback so soon, you can’t escape it. But when we saw those two ads play together, we were just celebrating. What we ran was actual Budweiser footage provided by the brand, which we thought was really cool. It’s not that we were just shooting any footage of horses. This was actual Budweiser footage.

It’s a special idea, but the execution has to be right or the idea doesn’t work. How were you able to get the execution right?
There were a few elements that were really important. One was the celebrity spokesperson. We were looking for the right person for a while when David [Harbour]’s name came up. He was perfect because he embodies that quirky personality that can be funny, and a little bit weird, and charming. And that was really important because we were playing with different advertising genres, and we needed someone who could be versatile and act all of those genres with charm, and at the same time deliver this idea that was not that simple to explain. He explained the idea in a really charming way.

Then, the production company, Rattling Stick, was really important. We worked with them last year. It’s an amazing group of directors. We needed to work in all these different genres and make them look amazing and believable to make people think they are actually watching another ad.

I think the third element was the idea in itself. All of my concerns were around the complexity of the idea. My only worry was, Is this too complicated for the Super Bowl? You see a lot of stuff on the Super Bowl that’s really on the nose, really direct and straightforward. But I think it ended up playing really, really well. The spokesperson was probably the most important, because if you don’t have the right talent to deliver that idea, and people just don’t engage with that person, I think it’s over.

I would add one more element that for me, as a foreigner, is really important too. People are actually paying attention to the ads in the Super Bowl. So we played with that. This is a special idea, and you need people’s attention for it. You need people actually watching the commercial breaks, and we know that’s not always the case.

People are so focused that they connect the dots.

Did you consider any other actors for the role?
Not seriously. We played with a lot of names. David resonated with everyone. There are a lot of Stranger Things fans at the agency.

It is a very self-referential campaign. Was there ever any concern that it might be too navel-gazey to connect broadly?
Not for the Super Bowl. We knew that in the Super Bowl you can play with that because people are talking about the ads, qualifying the ads, making rankings of the ads. That’s unusual. Even in Argentina, where people are crazy about advertising, that doesn’t happen in one particular event. But it happens here in America. I think that moving forward, we need to find the right executions for this idea, to make the idea relevant throughout the following executions. But we feel, and the client feels as well, that this is an idea that has more legs than just the Super Bowl. In the end, it’s about the product benefit. It’s not elevated conceptual thinking. It’s really about clean clothes. It’s a really simple notion in the end.

So, tell me what you’ve done with the campaign since the Super Bowl, and what you’re planning for the next couple of months.
We’ve done two TV ads, one for Valentine’s Day and one for the Olympics. We were actually playing with some extra footage that we got in the shoot for the Super Bowl. Both worked really well. One was a parody of a diamonds ad for Valentine’s, and the other was a parody mattress ad for the Olympics. Moving forward, I think we’ll be looking for other moments throughout the year where we feel like we can surprise people the way we did on the Super Bowl. It doesn’t need to be that big, but it needs to be surprising and smart and well executed. Not just another iteration of the same idea.

Looking back, what are the lessons you learned from this campaign, both why it worked so well and anything you might do differently?
The first lesson for us, as creative people, is that we could beat something that we thought we couldn’t beat. We had so much pressure on us that at some point we just said, let’s stop trying to beat that and just have fun with a cool idea. That took the weight off our shoulders. And we eventually came to an idea that was as good as, or even better than, the original idea.

If we could do it again? I’d probably want to run more ads! It’s not that we needed it, but I would have loved to do more. But no, I don’t have any regrets about the execution. We had so much fun throughout the process. This is one of the most full-circle projects that I’ve worked on, where everything comes together in such an amazing way, that I don’t really have any regrets or things I would do differently.

Well, it’s going to be tough to top this next year. The pressure’s on!
[laughs] I know! I’m already stressed out about it!