At the Turn of the Tide… Ad

The Big Game is over and the post-hot wings and beer antacids are all eaten up. Because that’s America. The biggest sporting event in the country also comes with the most anticipated commercials of the year––some of them land, some of them flop. Afterwards, there are the endless lists of ‘Best Super Bowl Ads 2018.’

Today, we’re doing something a little different. There was one ad campaign that stood above the rest because of its inventiveness and self-awareness. It’s the Tide ads. David Harbour, of Stranger Things fame, starred in four spots––one in each quarter––that totaled 90-seconds of air-time. Let’s dissect why the ads worked and what we can learn from Tide.


Establishing the Bit
The premise is quite simple: if there are clean clothes in an ad, then we are to assume that those clothes were washed with Tide detergent. Therefore, every ad is a Tide ad, in a way… Right?

Saatchi & Saatchi and P&G devised a plan to satirize all of the typical Super Bowl ads you’ll see in the night. They make fun of car insurance, beer, deodorant, car, razor, soda, tech, and surrealist ads. In the 45-second runtime, they establish the joke that will continue throughout the Super Bowl.

It’s imperative to be concise and effective in the writing in order to establish complex ad campaigns like this one. Without the set-up, the rest of the commercials don’t land quite as well. They work, but that opening commercial sets the tone for the rest of commercials, which, in my opinion, is a tremendous experiment with serialized commercials.

The Serialization Factor
The standout part of the “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign is the serialization. During the Super Bowl, you’re subjected to four spots that all further the story (joke) that every commercial is a Tide ad. In 15-second installments, Tide extends the bit in hilarious fashion.

I can think of other companies that have experimented with “furthering the joke”––Geico ads come to mind. But I think Tide struck a chord with this current generation’s infatuation with serialized, streaming content (like Stranger Things). We’re accustomed to seeing familiar actors and scenarios through multiple installments, and Tide’s ability to keep the joke rolling throughout the Super Bowl is a testament to a well-executed campaign.

I’d be surprised if we didn’t see commercials played out like 30-second shows over the course of a TV event (like a Super Bowl) or a season of a show. As in, during the entire season of This is Us you’d see a serialized, continuing story of an ad. And I’m not talking about ads with a similar vibe or punchline, a la Geico or Progressive… I’m thinking full-on episodic ads.


Story Over Sales Pitch
What I love most about the Tide campaign is how it doesn’t focus on the Tide product too much. Because they have an overwhelming market share and lead in detergent sales, they’re able to focus on the joke. “Of course all commercial sets use Tide. It’s the leading brand!”

The next three spots to appear during the Super Bowl can then pour their entire energy into tricking the viewer that they’re watching another ad when, in fact, it’s another Tide ad. That commitment to the joke plays out in more ridiculous scenarios, such as David Harbour absolutely destroying some old folks in tennis. When you’ve presented the assumption that your brand is the best, there are all kinds of stories you can tell in an ad.

In our Elevate Your Game spots with Audio-Technica, in partnership with Twitch gamers, we focus more on the storytelling and comedy than the product. In the spot with the crazed monk, it’s not so much about the technical aspects as much as it’s about how these headphones can make you levitate. Or how these headphones connect our world with the universe in our Alien spot. The goal is to poke fun at conventional storytelling tropes in order to claim Audio-Technica’s headphones as the height of sound.


In the past, we’ve discussed our proclivity for telling stories over sales pitches… The new Tide ads only confirm our suspicions. The human brain connects more with content that excites our senses, like humor. We’re able to make neural connections between a product and its ability to make us feel good in the moment. When it comes to content, we prefer the more emotional methods and those spots that succeed steal the show. (Go Eagles.)

by Benton Olivares