Beloved scientist Bill Nye, in his signature bowtie and lab coat, is surrounded by the tools of his trade, including flasks, moon rocks, microscopes and rocket models, on a soundstage in Burbank, Calif.
A freestanding chalk board behind him is covered with numbers, which the affable educator and media star identifies at a glance as Newton’s law of universal gravitation. (He can explain the complex particle theory in detail, of course, but since he’s between takes on a SodaStream commercial, a top-line description will have to do.)
The camera rolls again, and he dives into his lines during the day-long January shoot, with coaching from director Bryan Buckley, a veteran of more than 60 Super Bowl ads.
“Humans are on Mars?” Nye says, staring straight into the lens. “What could this mean?”
“This time, even more blown away,” says Buckley. “Really big!”
“Humans? On Mars?” Nye says, tweaking the dialogue. “This changes everything!”
In the midst of the back and forth, Nye picks up a crimson-colored globe, runs a few new lines and notes a problem that could be disastrous for the spot’s credibility.
“Mars is turning the wrong way,” Nye says of the spinning model. “It’s going backwards. People will notice! They’ll call us out!”
There’s a brief pause to fix the prop error, which Nye jokingly says a short time later could’ve “ended my career” if it made its way into the finished ad from Goodby Silverstein & Partners. The 74-second extended version of the spot (which will run as a :30 in the Big Game), with its twist ending and environmental call to action, debuted today.
That kind of attention to detail, and unabashed geek humor, is what comes with hiring Nye for your Super Bowl ad, say execs at SodaStream, which returns to the game for the first time since 2014 with a spot aimed at repositioning the company as a sparkling water purveyor instead of a DIY soda maker.
Going big with a message of sustainability
The galactic-themed commercial, airing just after halftime, also intends to drive home an eco-friendly message about reducing plastic waste, a topic near and dear to Nye. (The science guy made an internet-breaking video last summer about climate change for John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight that went viral with an urgent, salty warning that, “The planet’s on f-ing fire!”)
The brand was looking for “talk value” from its pricey media buy, which averages this year around $5.6 million, but insisted on the right A-lister. And they learned that Nye was already a fan of their products.
“We didn’t want a celebrity for celebrity’s sake,” Bryan Welsh, general manager of SodaStream USA, says from the Burbank set. “Bill is not a disconnected celebrity play. His connection is authentic.”
The same is true of Alyssa Carson, an 18-year-old astronaut in training who co-stars in the ad as a crew member on the Nero II, a spacecraft that’s central to the fictional yet not-so-far-fetched storyline.
“This young woman has an amazing, inspiring story,” Welsh says of Carson, who plans to be on the first crewed Mars mission in the next decade. “She’s a great addition.”
Finding the right talent and sets
The ad, dubbed “Water on Mars,” gathered star power on both sides of the camera. Along with Buckley, who also directed Hyundai’s Boston-accented “Smaht Pahk” ad for the Feb. 2 broadcast on Fox, the spot’s director of photography is Rodrigo Prieto, multiple Oscar nominee, most recently for The Irishman.
Most of the exteriors were shot in Trona, a desolate mining town in the Mojave, several hours outside Los Angeles, where the rugged landscape is a dead ringer for the surface of the Red Planet.
The rest of the filming happened on the lot at Disney’s headquarters, with green screens behind the talent (for computer-generated footage of the pretend Mars mission) and set pieces snagged from the feature film Ad Astra to create the Nero II space habitat.
The Goodby team came up with the idea of astronauts landing on Mars and discovering water because the scenario “creates enormous, dramatic stakes” that feel Super Bowl-worthy, says Jon Wolanske, creative director.
With a short turnaround, the agency hoped “to make things as premium as possible,” Wolanske says, so viewers would think they’re watching the latest blockbuster trailer.
The commercial itself unfolds like this: Astronauts locate and retrieve a water sample from a Martian crater, making news around the world and setting off speculation about the planet as a habitable, life-sustaining frontier.
But just as the global community and astronomy buffs like Nye start to celebrate the historic finding, there’s an unexpected development back on Nero II. One of the explorers was parched, after all, and that water was handy. (Insert sound of a SodaStream machine firing up here).
One giant leap for mankind quickly becomes “one even giant-er misstep for a man named Mark,” says Margaret Johnson, partner and chief creative officer at Goodby Silverstein.
The plan: eliminate 67 billion plastic bottles
Though it’s a cheeky scenario, “It does carry an important sustainability message,” says Wolanske, with its hashtag, #ABetterWayToBubble, and closing message: “By 2025 SodaStream will eliminate 67 billion single-use bottles on this planet. So we won’t have to go looking for a new one.”
The Israel-based SodaStream is using the game and its anticipated audience of nearly 100 million viewers to reposition itself to American consumers and launch an ongoing campaign. Its focus had been on at-home soda making, with previous Super Bowl ads calling out competitors Coke and Pepsi by name. (The company had to backtrack and drop the names to get network approvals for the spots).
The company leaves its soda shilling days behind, and not just because it’s part of the PepsiCo family now, via a $3.2 billion acquisition in 2018. SodaStream is purposely hyping its better-for-you and better-for-the-earth themes.
“There’s huge growth potential for us with the trend toward healthy beverages,” said Shiri Hellman, SodaStream’s vp of marketing. “We’ll have a super tight message on sparkling water going forward.”
After hearing a number of ideas, the SodaStream execs chose the Mars mission because “it was the most futuristic,” Welsh says, “and we want to present SodaStream as the future of water.”
Nye, who’s choosy about his brand partnerships but generous with his selfies (snapping numerous photos with members of the production crew and their children on set), says he immediately saw the fit. He’s a longtime fan anyway, owning numerous SodaStream gadgets.
“The premise is funny, and I hope it sells some SodaStreams,” says Nye, who not so subtly put in an order for “a 2-liter glass carafe, please” while SodaStream execs were within earshot. “I hope we reduce the number of plastic bottles used by the viewers.”
And if it’s not too much to expect from a commercial during a sporting event, he says, “I’d like people to stop and consider what it would actually mean to find liquid water on Mars, what that would mean for space exploration.”
SodaStream isn’t the only brand looking to the heavens in the Big Game, with P&G’s Olay choosing a similar creative palette for its female-centric campaign, “Make Space for Women” and Walmart highlighting the “out of this world convenience” of its pickup service with aliens and sci-fi star cameos.
SodaStream’s “Water on Mars” extends to a related promotion targeting folks who live in Mars, Pa., a small town just outside Pittsburgh. Any of the 1,637 residents who tweet at the brand on game day will receive a free SodaStream as it aims, Hellman says, “to be the most talked-about brand on Mars.”