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In 1967, a sketchy tabloid called The National Spotlite ran a story that Walt Disney, who’d died the previous year, had arranged for his body to be kept in cryonic stasis. The story wasn’t true—but it wasn’t entirely farfetched, either.
In the late 1960s and well into the following decade, sufferers of incurable illnesses pinned their hopes on a novel scheme: If they had their mortal remains preserved in a chamber of liquid nitrogen (roughly -320° F), doctors of the future would be able to resurrect them, cure their maladies, then send them strolling into the happily ever after. Some 500 people had the procedure performed.
Ken Jeong was not one of them.
Well, not in the real world, anyway. But in the 60-second version of Popeyes’ Super Bowl ad released today, a bevy of white coats resurrect the comedian, icicles still clinging to his hair, 52 years after he went into the freezer.
A truly chilling premise
What does this nearly forgotten bit of pseudoscience have to do with chicken? Stay with us, folks.
In the ad’s storyline, Jeong’s character has apparently lost his will to live because he can’t find chicken wings up to his standard of crispy and juicy. (A desperate longing for wings appears to be the man’s only terminal condition.) So he puts himself into cryonic stasis, hoping for the distant day that a chicken chain can grant his existential wish.
Fortunately for all involved, amusing vignettes and Jeong’s vivacious screen presence allow this spot to sidestep the squirminess of humans freezing themselves. What’s more, according Popeyes CMO Jeff Klein, the time-lapse concept in the ad reflects Popeyes’ own history. Though the fast-food chain has been in business since 1972, it took 47 years before it put a chicken sandwich on the menu—and it took 52 years to finally add some wings.
“That’s when the idea came up from [our ad agency] McKinney,” Klein told ADWEEK. “This notion that this eccentric billionaire was so obsessed with chicken wings but [there wasn’t] anything out there that was perfect. He decided to freeze himself and be woken up when somebody has mastered it.”
That a bunch of other technological advancements have also been made in the interim period sets up the rest of the ad, where Jeong’s character has wide-eyed encounters with inventions including the drone, the Roomba and the Goldendoodle. (“Two dogs in one? Hurray!”)
Always hire a local
Arguably, most any comedian could have succeeded in this starring role, but Popeyes’ choice of Jeong was deliberate: The man’s got Popeyes in his past.
Jeong was a practicing physician in the early 2000s before his standup routine caught Comedy Central’s attention and launched his showbiz career.
“I grew up in New Orleans, where I did my medical residency,” Jeong told host Jimmy Fallon on the Jan. 24 episode of The Tonight Show. “This is my first big Super Bowl ad—with Popeyes chicken, that started in New Orleans. It’s very full-circle.”
It really is. Jeong also told the story of how, famished after a 36-hour hospital shift, he’d stop at Popeyes on the way back home to Metairie. And when Jeong delivered the commencement address to Tulane University’s graduating class of 2022, “the only request on my rider was to have a Popeyes Spicy Chicken sandwich,” he said.
According to Klein, Popeyes founder Al Copeland owned at least one of the local comedy clubs where Dr. Jeong did some early standup.
“[Jeong] was honored to be part of [our] Super Bowl ad because he has a connection to the brand,” Klein said.
Now, about that dog
Jeong’s involvement saved the brand and its ad agency some casting headaches, too. Detailing the ad’s theme to Jeong during an introductory Zoom call, Klein mentioned the part about the Goldendoodle.
“Oh, I have one,” Jeong said, fetching his dog Mocha to show the CMO. Unsurprisingly, Mocha had little trouble landing the role. Did the addition of Jeong’s own dog mean that Popeyes had to cough up a little extra cash?
“It was a package deal,” Klein said.