How Droga5 London Pulled Off Amazon’s Super Bowl Ad

British agency's memorable spot imagined life before Alexa

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In Amazon's Super Bowl ad, Droga5 London imagines a world without Alexa. Amazon
Headshot of Minda Smiley

This year, Amazon once again used its Super Bowl airtime to plug Alexa. While U.K. agency Lucky Generals has taken the creative reins on Alexa’s game day commercial over the past few years, Amazon chose a different British shop for the task this time: Droga5 London.

The ad—which landed the No. 7 spot on USA Today’s Ad Meter this year—has a simple premise: What was life like before Alexa?

Of course, millions of people get on just fine every day without the voice assistant, but the tongue-in-cheek spot imagines a world that’s downright archaic without it. For instance, when a woman asks her maid (who’s aptly named Alessa) to turn the temperature down, she responds by chucking a flaming log from the fireplace out the window.

Shenanigans of this sort continue throughout the ad, which culminates in celebrity couple Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi pondering “what people did before Alexa.”

An extended version of the commercial includes a few scenes cut for the sake of time:

Droga5’s London office has worked on a number of campaigns for Amazon in recent years, most notably for Prime Video in the U.K.

Last year, the agency created a series of ads that promoted Prime’s furniture and fashion offerings. “That was our first project for the U.S.,” said David Kolbusz, chief creative officer at Droga5 London. “Because that went well, we got a bite at the Super Bowl apple.”

Shelley Smoler, group creative director at Droga5 London, said the agency was “more relieved than surprised” to find out it would be creating this year’s game day ad. “It had been in talks for a while. It was always dangled,” she said. “So yeah, it was nice to be asked.”

Once it became official, the agency began concepting tons of ideas. According to Matt Hubbard, the campaign’s lead writer and creative director at Droga5 London, one of the challenges was that the brief involved bringing “visual interest to what is essentially a voice-enabled technology.” Luckily, the agency landed on the winning concept early on.

“When Matt had the script, it just kind of imagined this world in which all these mundane tasks were undertaken but then screwed up,” Kolbusz said. “From the first time we presented it to [Amazon], it emerged as an early favorite.”

Hubbard said ideas for the various scenes were coming easily to the team writing the script, which he took as a good sign.

“We wrote dozens of vignettes for this, and then whatever allowed us to be the silliest and have a broad range of Alexa skills made the list,” he explained.

Game time

Once the concept was solidified, Droga5 London got to work. As for why it didn’t lean heavily on celebrity talent this year, Kolbusz claims it’s because the team had a sneaking suspicion that this would be the year of celebrity overload in Super Bowl ads—a prediction he said proved to be “strangely prescient.”

Plus, Kolbusz said that Simon Morris, vice president of global creative at Amazon, wanted the concept to be able to stand on its own without any celebrities. However, the agency still opted to juice up the spot with a bit of star power, which came courtesy of DeGeneres and de Rossi.

“We were looking for a real couple,” Kolbusz said. “That was the one criteria. We looked at a variety of different real couples. We wanted people who were relatable, progressive and interesting.”

The 90-second commercial was shot in both Prague and Los Angeles. Hubbard said it was a lengthy process, considering each scene was basically its own mini—not to mention meticulously detailed—ad.

According to Kolbusz, Accenture, which bought Droga5 last year, wasn’t involved much with the creation of the spot, barring some consultation on the rollout and bespoke Alexa voice commands that echo the ones in the ad itself. However, Droga5 London did work closely with Amazon’s creative team at every stage of the process.

“The amazing thing about Amazon, and this is not me being a sycophantic prick, is everyone there has really good taste, which is a relief. It means that you can trust them,” Kolbusz said. “We were always on the same page with Amazon, so it never felt like we were fighting anyone, which is sometimes part of the battle. Simon’s not just a great client, he’s an amazing creative person.”

With no shortage of U.S. agencies to choose from, many of which have experience working on Super Bowl ads, why did Amazon once again select a London agency to shepherd its creative direction for an American commercial? Kolbusz said he thinks it comes down to Morris’ penchant for “smashing together” the best of both worlds, so to speak.

“Simon manages to strike the right balance between the arty pretentiousness of the U.K. market and the fun, populist U.S. market,” Kolbusz said. “He’s got amazing instincts and places a lot of trust in us.”

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@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.