Mint Mobile Gambled on Chunky Milk in a Super Bowl Ad. Did It Work?

It wasn't well loved, but it made an impact

Chunky Milk from Mint Mobile
A polarizing Super Bowl ad that hit the mark Mint Mobile

The Super Bowl and its ads come and go. Sure, we might see a few awards doled out long after the final whistle, but, by and large, these spots can be somewhat perishable unless they make their way to a case study. (“The Force,” anyone?)

But there is no question that Super Bowl ads can be polarizing. Peeling back the curtain a little bit, there was one ad out of the 58 aired that resulted in a “many people typing” on Slack: “Chunky Style Milk” from the in-house team at Mint Mobile, produced by Ruffian in Los Angeles. If you want percentages, it’s safe to say that around 70% of the Adweek team working on Super Bowl Sunday didn’t much care for it. The other 30%? They loved it.

You’ve gotta hand it to the 3-year-old wireless company for giving it a go to stand out.

“We’re looking for a reaction to it,” Aron North, svp of marketing and creative for Mint Mobile, told Adweek in February. “If you dull the edges of the work, people will forget your brand.”

Six months later, we were curious to find out if the ad actually worked (even though it landed at No. 53 out of 58 ads in USA Today’s Ad Meter list) and asked Evan Silver, director at Ruffian, how it all went down.

Adweek: What were your initial reactions/discussions with the brand about the idea?
Silver: I remember thinking, “Are they really going to let us do this?!” The client understood they needed to be daring creatively to stand out, especially going up against the billion-dollar telecommunication giants on advertising’s biggest night. And they never flinched.

With something as risqué as Chunky Milk, we needed to be very clear in our approach. So I talked a lot with the creatives about finding the right comedic tone and how the casting, performance and overall film look needed to set up the joke. So when the chunks poured out, it’s a total surprise. And makes you think, did I just see that?!

Super Bowl ads generally make an impact, one way or the other. What was the feedback/reactions that you and the brand received after the spot aired?
The goal was to make something funny and memorable that could deliver on Mint’s campaign line, “That’s not right!” The spot created a ton of buzz and scored at the top of every brand name recall survey, which was a huge win. It also made a bunch of Top-10 Best Super Bowl Ad lists and spawned countless repostings, memes and unsponsored tweets from sports icons to celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres.

The spot impacted viewers in a big way. They either loved or hated it, which is what you want—our biggest fear was to go unnoticed. Of course, a few lactose-sensitive sports fans blamed us for ruining their big game nachos. Even the dairy farmers got into the fray, arguing for and against the spot online, which was pretty amusing and surreal, considering everything else going on in this country right now.

Let’s be honest, this was kind of gross … but funny. How did you balance the “shock” and keeping it funny?
We needed to approach the humor in a way that would surprise viewers. So I played it straight, treating the spot akin to a serious milk product as opposed to a comedy skit. This gave the story an unexpected wholesome feel, which made the milk gag seem even more “wrong.” I never wanted to wink at the joke or soften the blow for the viewers. The infamous pour shot had to come out of nowhere. Some viewers thought they were watching a real ad for Chunky Milk, which is what we hoped for.

We’re curious to know if the creative worked. Was there an uptick for the brand?
The creative gamble certainly paid off for Mint in millions of free media dollars, brand recognition and massive customer growth. I even had friends reach out to tell me how their entire office or classroom was talking about Chunky Milk the day after the game. It crossed into popular culture in a big way, making it on news outlets, blogs and late-night shows. It took on a life of its own online after the game.

We’re also curious if other brands reached out to you based on this work. No need to name-check, but did any other brands inquire with Ruffian after the spot aired? What was their feedback on the Super Bowl ad?
We had a post-game flood of boards right after the Super Bowl from agencies and a bunch of clients direct. They were all curious to talk about the spot and how they could stand out as a brand. A few added how grossed out they were—but in a good way. We also had a lot of clients tell us Chunky Milk was their kids’ favorite spot of the game, which made us feel warm all over.

What’s it like to work on a Super Bowl ad? How is it different from other work? How is it the same?
The main difference is the massive exposure you get when doing a Super Bowl ad—not just from the ad community, but from the entire world. Family members, news anchors, celebrities to TV and radio show hosts weighed in on your spot. It was incredible and terrifying. The Super Bowl is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for a brand or creative to make their mark and take a big chance.

If you’re jonesing to relive the magic of the Super Bowl, check out Adweek’s coverage.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.