Inside the First Super Bowl Ad From NBCU’s In-House Agency, Starring Iggy Azalea

This Monster Products spot is based on the life of the company's CEO

The ad features 11 celebrities and influencers, including rapper Iggy Azalea.

When Monster Products founder and CEO Noel Lee prepared to shoot his company’s first Super Bowl ad—in fact, its first ad, period—two weeks ago, “I thought it was just going to be two guys and a camcorder,” recalls Lee, whose company makes headphones, speakers and cables.

Instead, NBCU’s in-house Content Innovation Agency (CIA) employed a crew of more than 250 for the spot, which shot for four days around New York City. The ad, inspired by Lee’s life, features 11 celebrities and influencers, including recording artist Iggy Azalea and YouTube star RiceGum, who plays a younger version of Lee. “This is the first ad we’ve ever run, so it’s a pretty epic moment for us to start out in the big leagues,” says Lee, who shows up himself at the end.

In the spot, the younger Lee hears Azalea in a subway station, “and it just gives me goosebumps as to the shortcomings of … the free white earbuds that come with your phone,” says Lee. “I go into the laboratory and create these great new products. Then my quest is to go evangelize them to the world, but I get rejected. And then when they finally discover it, it opens up a whole new world with people dancing and smiling because of the music. I think it’s going to be a great story.”

Azalea’s new song “Savior” appears in the ad, which is “so appropriate,” says Lee. “Here is young Noel Lee, saving the world from bad music.”

The Monster Products ad is CIA’s first Super Bowl spot ever, and the first time any network has produced a Super Bowl ad for an outside client. It was part of NBCU’s two-year effort to integrate its sports programming with the rest of its portfolio, while enhancing the company’s overall offerings to marketers, in preparation for next month’s $1.4 billion ad revenue bonanza from the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics.

“The Super Bowl is the ultimate test for creative,” says Dan Lovinger, evp, ad sales, NBC Sports Group. The NBCU team knew “if we could find an advertiser that would entrust this awesome responsibility upon us, that would be the ultimate statement that we’ve created the right group here at NBCU.”

In addition to crafting the spot, NBCU’s CIA is creating customized teasers for each of the celebrities and influencers who appear in it, as well as a 90-second version of the ad for digital platforms. “The way that we look at working with clients—and more and more we do this across all platforms—is we’re not just creating one spot, we’re creating bigger programs and bigger platforms for our clients to integrate across the whole portfolio,” says Steven Rummer, svp of marketing and creative for CIA.

Lee, who founded Monster Products 39 years ago, initially had his doubts about shelling out more than $5 million for a 30-second spot, but the company’s COO Fred Khalilian sold him on the idea. “There’s only one way to deliver the message of where Monster was, where Monster is and where Monster is going,” says Khalilian, who told Lee, “If you’re planning to stay in business another 39 years, this is how you deliver the message that you ain’t going nowhere.”

Now, Lee has no regrets about his big Super Bowl investment. “In one fell swoop, we can put our brand in front of so many people that they at least ask the question: ‘Wow, who’s Monster?’ ‘Is this the energy drink?’ ‘What do they do?’ And, ‘Whoa, that’s an interesting story,’” says Lee. “It’s my belief that the Super Bowl ad is worth every penny that we’re paying.”