Inside Tide’s Epic Super Bowl Ode to Procrastination

Charlie Day and Emily Hampshire star in the P&G brand's latest multipart campaign

charlie day and emily hampshire
Charlie Day and Emily Hampshire star in Tide's 2020 Super Bowl commercials. Tide
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

Key insights:

The elderly gentleman sitting in the afternoon sun on a park bench is unrecognizable as actor Charlie Day. Until he speaks.

Though he’s disguised with prosthetic wrinkles, saggy skin and snow-white hair for a Tide Super Bowl ad campaign, his voice—in all its neurotic glory—gives him away. 

The same may not be true of his similarly aged-up companion, Emily Hampshire. The Schitt’s Creek star has melted into her role as a cardigan-wearing octogenarian so thoroughly that she’s unwittingly changed her speech patterns.

“My old person has an accent, and I’m not sure why,” she says during a break in filming on the University of Southern California campus, shortly before launching into a fake coughing fit that sounds like she’s hacking up a hairball.

“Maybe you better dial that back,” Day says, as the two burst out laughing.

The lively rapport between the two cult favorite performers helped fuel the fourth and final shooting day for Tide’s return to the Big Game, in which the Procter & Gamble-owned brand took a page from its own playbook with a multipart story that threaded through each quarter, a la 2018’s massively successful awards darling “It’s a Tide Ad.” (Tide also pulled off a hat trick of pop cultural cameos, including the Bud Knight, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and the creature contestants from Fox’s The Masked Singer.)

Tide's initial Super Bowl spot

Day, shedding the senior-citizen camouflage later in the makeup trailer and reverting to his 43-year-old self, says he saw the ad copy for #LaundryLater and “thought it was hilarious. And they were asking me to bring my own personality and spin. That’s the fun part—it’s not a rigid experience.”

Hampshire, making her advertising debut, says the commercial’s concept closely mirrors her own life. (It’s about putting off that unpleasant chore—laundry—until some unnamed future date.)

“This is so on-brand for me that I thought someone at Tide actually knew me,” she says, copping to regularly having several weeks’ worth of dirty clothes piled up in her apartment and buying new underwear instead of washing what she owns. “I thought, ‘Is the writer a friend of mine?’”

For the first time, Tide, which sat out the Super Bowl last year, used its high-profile ads to introduce a new product during Sunday’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. 

In store already but getting the first national marketing push during the game, Tide Power Pods are expressly designed for large loads of laundry that have accumulated over time and gotten, well, funky. 

Tide followed a similar format to 2018, running multiple ads during the game

If solving that problem in your own household sounds unappealing to you, join the club, says Tide brand manager Jenny Maxwell.

“The truth is, people don’t like to do laundry—they’d rather be doing anything else,” Maxwell says. “If you ask anyone when they want to do laundry, they’ll always say, ‘Later.’”

Procrastination became the buzzword at the heart of the campaign.

Starting with a 45-second setup of the premise in the first quarter (Hampshire slaps a dirty handprint across Day’s shirt but tells him, “Super Bowl now. Laundry later.”) The ongoing gag became a question of what “later” really means (hence, Day and Hampshire as retirees).

Tide dropped 15-second spots throughout the broadcast, pulling in the Bud Knight, Fox’s The Masked Singer and Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984. Recruiting those brand and entertainment partners, who are not in the P&G family, was another first for Tide’s marketing.

Wonder Woman featured in Tide's ads as well

Though it would’ve been possible to tell the story in a single 60-second ad, Tide wanted “to own the game and have a fluid story arc throughout,” Maxwell says, and somehow surpass the high bar set by 2018’s crowd-pleasing effort.

“It had to start with a consumer insight, and it had to be an elevated idea,” Maxwell says. “It had to entertain and deliver a product benefit message.”

No pressure, then, on the creative team from Saatchi & Saatchi New York and director Aaron Stoller, who has helmed a few other notable Super Bowl ads in recent years like Hyundai’s “The Chase” and the NFL’s Dirty Dancing homage.

And there was no time to waste, given that the shoot itself, which took the production crew from USC near downtown Los Angeles to Universal City to Pasadena, happened in mid-January, just weeks from the Feb. 2 broadcast. (That was due to scheduling issues, execs say, not procrastination.)

Tide historically focuses on product attributes (fighting stains, cleaning clothes) rather than human behavior (or lack of motivation) around laundry. But brand and agency execs liked the potential storytelling possibilities, and social extensions, that the #FootballNowLaundryLater premise would provide.

“It’s a detergent for later, so we’re giving people permission to not think about laundry,” says Paul Bichler, Saatchi’s executive creative director, part of P&G’s Woven collaborative group. “We wanted to recreate that experience of procrastination where you’re off the hook for the current moment, but what you’re delaying always comes back to haunt you.”

It took a fresh spin, but Tide returned to a familiar tactic, recalling the memetastic “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign. With star David Harbour, the fourth wall-breaking, intentionally cheesy spots rolled out over each quarter of the game, pulling viewers into the ongoing storyline and nabbing the top spot on Adweek’s 5 Best Ads of Super Bowl LII.

In a follow-up to that campaign, which swept industry awards like Cannes and D&AD, the brand created an ongoing story with its fall NFL-centric ads. Dubbed “Laundry Night,” the campaign weaved through four weeks’ worth of NBC programming and starred a number of celebrities, including Kenan Thompson, Peyton Manning and, in an inspired crossover, the Bud Knight.

The Bud Knight made an appearance in Tide's spots, too

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@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.