Creating a Super Bowl ad is often like trying to herd cats. Advertisers spend millions of dollars on media placement, celebrity endorsements, licensing pop songs and promotions in supermarkets. Executives at Hellmann’s, however, really only need to worry about the actual animals.
Kate McKinnon stars in Hellmann’s new Super Bowl spot along with a feline known as “Mayo Cat.” Both work to make viewers aware of food waste and how the company’s famous mayonnaise can help reduce it. For the comic actor, the task is an important one. “I grew up in a house that was very environmentally minded, and we never threw anything out,” she tells Variety in an interview. “It’s something that’s very dear to my heart.”
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While many sports fans are mulling how the Kansas City Chiefs will defend their Super Bowl title against the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 11, some may ponder whether there’s room during the NFL extravaganza for messages that stretch behind humor and the heartfelt. People familiar with the Super Bowl ad roster suggest that advertisers are sticking to light laughs, with the bulk relying on celebrities and nostalgia to make their marketing point.
Hellmann’s Game Day recipe calls for a gentle touch, says Chris Symmes, senior marketing director of dressings for the North American operations of Hellmann’s parent, Unilever. Viewers “want to be entertained. This is sort of a moment to entertain them,” he says during an interview. “We take a very serious subject like reducing food waste and communicate it in a comedic way that is still relevant.”
In the spot, McKinnon gets kitchen advice from her cat, who advises her to use “May-oww” to make leftover food taste great. Soon, the cat becomes famous enough to date Pete Davidson, and McKinnon must counsel her pet as she navigates fame and fortune. It’s a lot to, um, sandwich between the humorous scenes.
McKinnon says she was able to bring some of her own ideas to the scene, “Did I ad-lib? Of course. I always do, and they gave me wonderful freedom to say whatever and do whatever,” she says. “But the script was – I had absolutely nothing to do with it and I take no credit – it was just a great spot, very well executed and very funny.” She says she was fortunate that “Mayo Cat” – actually an 8-month-old feline named Chipmunk –“was quite the professional.” Symmes says McKinnon must have generated at least five minutes’ worth of material during her time at the ad shoot.
This marks Hellman’s fourth consecutive round on the Super Bowl ad roster, but Symmes says the famous condiment’s appearance each year is not guaranteed.
Indeed, executives at Unilever get started on making such a decision within weeks of the end of the last championship, The company analyzes data about consumer reaction and whether viewers absorb the information about cutting back on food waste. Hellmann’s has tracked a 24.4% increase in conversation around food waste on social media following the Big Game, thanks to the commercials. The message seems pertinent to Super Bowl, says Symmes, because Americans make so much food when they watch the game.
Working with cats might fluster other actors, but not McKinnon. She has famously managed a few during a set of “Whiskers R We” sketches on “SNL” where her offbeat character, Barbara DeDrew, tries to encourage cat adoption. Having cats on set only adds to the experience, says McKinnon. “I am very absorbed in the cat. I’m not talking to the people as much as I’m really talking to and bonding with the cat, and it’s just a happy day for me,” she confides.
Hellmann’s is betting the commercial will be part of something similar for football fans.
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