super bowl

Inside CeraVe's Three-Phase Big Game Assault

By now, the world knows that actor Michael Cera isn’t the brains behind CeraVe moisturizers. But the campaign debunking that delightful bit of fake news emerged as one of the Super Bowl’s biggest hits. Adam Kornblum, CeraVe’s senior vice president and global head of digital marketing and Charlotte Tansill, president of Ogilvy North America’s PR, social and influence practice, took a victory lap with Marketing Daily, explaining how the 360-degree effort came to life.

Marketing Daily: What came first? The idea for the campaign or the decision to create something for the Super Bowl?

Adam Kornblum: The Super Bowl. We want our brand to be part of the culture, and we are. We’re proud that we’re one of the most popular brands with teens, for example, and that we’ve done so well on TikTok. Thinking about a significant cultural moment, well, that’s the Super Bowl. So we set our sights on that.

We’ve got that “earned first” mentality, and like Ogilvy, we believe that good earned media makes paid media exponentially better. We wanted to own our brand codes and messages on the biggest scale possible, in ways that focused on the brand's DNA -- that we’re made from ceramides and developed with dermatologists. And we wanted an idea that built on our style of “edutainment.” We tried to storify that, and find ways to make it truly 360.

Charlotte Tansill: CeraVe has had so much success in the past few years as a social-first, influencer-first brand. We’ve got a lot of traction and credibility there, so we knew we needed something that was social by design. And, of course, we turned to social listening and found this seven-year-old “shower thoughts” post in the depths of Reddit, speculating whether there was a connection between Michael Cera and CeraVe. That was the starting point.

Of course, the whole idea hinged on him saying yes. And he was quite involved every step of the way. You can see how funny he is in all the assets we created. That’s not scripted. He was just riffing.

Marketing Daily: How did you shape the rollout?

Kornblum: We were meticulous. There were three phases. The first part was the Fake News phase, with Cera seemingly on a rogue mission to make people believe he is the mastermind behind our product. Next, we took the “fight” public, getting dermatologists and influencers involved in debunking those claims. And finally, there was the resolution, which was revealed in the actual Super Bowl spot.

Marketing Daily: Can you comment on the results so far? Are sales up?

Kornblum: I can’t say on sales. We were ranked the No. 1 Best Spot at Adweek and Forbes, and a top-five at Ad Age*. Many places said we were in the Top 10, and Jimmy Fallon mentioned us. We've gotten 28 billion impressions. That’s serious.

Marketing Daily: Can you each comment about the pressure and anxiety of creating a Super Bowl spot? Everyone thinks their ad will be a winner and go viral, but some fall flat, and most are forgettable. It’s high risk, with a lot of money at stake.

Kornblum: That’s fair. But as I said, we had this three-phase plan, which gave us plenty of agility. Every day, we had these virtual command center sessions where we could look at what was working, what we needed to optimize, or where we should add more influencers. Luckily, Plan A worked, but we were in a situation where we could make these small shifts and add layers. We just knew what levers we had to pull to get the story out in front of as many people as possible so that when they saw the spot on the game, it felt like a conclusion. I don’t think in all those meetings, the word “virality” ever came up.

We were already setting the record straight on every channel and touchpoint: email, SMS, social, and our website.

Tansill: That made our position going into Sunday a little different than other advertisers. So much of the campaign had already happened. From the first day we planted those rumors and started stirring up speculation, it took off. It was bananas -- and built such momentum. I don’t think there was as much anxiety because we had already won, in a sense. It had garnered billions of earned impressions. It was culturally dominant and it was edutainment.

Marketing Daily: What has this experience made you think about next year? Are you thinking, “We’ll do this again"? The problem with doing so well is, you do create an expectation.

Kornblum: I'm not sure I can truly answer at the moment. There's a lot of positive sentiment towards what's taking place.
*An earlier version. of this story misstated CeraVe's Ad Age ranking.

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