Pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty….surprising.
FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange, did its best to stand out in its first time advertising at the Super Bowl by tapping an actor who has never appeared in commercials before: Larry David.
David, best known for his contrarian, curmudgeonly humor, took to the Super Bowl stage for FTX in a minute-long commercial that showed him turning down some of history’s best ideas, era by era. In various historical mini-dramas, David dismisses the wheel, the fork, the toilet, the electric light bulb, the Walkman and even the notion of American independence (because “even the stupid ones” will get a chance to influence major political decisions.)
He isn’t much for cryptocurrency, either. After the comedian dismisses many of history’s greatest inventions, someone tries to interest a modern-day David in the new technology. “Nah, I don’t think so,” he says. “And I’m never wrong about this stuff. Ever.”
FTX “had the grapes to make an ad where Larry David says he won’t use the product,” says Jeff Schaffer, who directed the commercial and has worked for years with David on both “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Embracing David’s antagonism is part of the company’s marketing strategy, notes Sam Bankman-Fried, FTX’s co-founder and CEO. “We need to meet people where they are — and that means embracing skepticism,” he says, in a statement. “A lot of people who are now the biggest advocates of crypto once had significant reservations.”
FTX will no doubt hope to have the best word about a new category of Super Bowl advertising, cryptocurrency. Its spot is competing for attention during NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI with commercials from Coinbase and Crypto.com.
Yet the company clearly thinks it has a winning strategy, using the surprise of David’s appearance and the elaborate storyline. “Who better to belittle the sum of human achievement – and be wrong?” asks Schaffer.
David gets asked to do commercials “pretty regularly,” Schaffer says, but often can’t get past the creative concept that agencies and marketing executives have in mind. “A lot of times, when you get the idea, they’ve already worked on it very hard, and they’re very proud of it, and they want to do it that way. Often, we have a different take on stuff,” he says. In this case, FTX’s ad agency, dentsuMB, had a concept “we were completely in lockstep with” and “we got excited and started writing little sketches about different time periods.” What helped, he adds, is the fact that “Larry and I are not the most tech-savvy people on the planet.”
The ad has been in the works since before October, which is when Dentsu approached David. He and his team had wrapped the most recent season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO – a time, says Schaffer, when David is at loose ends and thinking about what, if anything, he might tackle next. “The timing was perfect. We weren’t shooting. We weren’t editing.”
The actual ad wasn’t shot, however, until early January. “It was a blitz,” Schaffer recalls, with teams picking out places all around the Los Angeles vicinity. Knott’s Berry Farm had a “full-scale representation of the Continental Congress,” making it a great place to record the scene where David tries to put a halt to the birth of the United States in 1776. “We just wrapped the final coloring on the long-form on Wednesday,” he says.
Each vignette had its own requirements. In a scene where David dismisses the concept of a toilet, he is in full Elizabethan garb. In the scene when David scoffs at the viability of the Walkman, he had to learn Japanese phrases that he could shout on command. “He had to be able to scream it,” Schaffer says. “We could not feed him each line. He had to know. It worked, by the way. He still remembers his Japanese, so if he ever finds himself in Japan in a boardroom, he should be able to get by.”
By the time all was wrapped, says Schaffer, the company had enough material for a two-and-a-half-minute trailer that will debut online after the 60-second version slated for TV on Sunday night.
David was also adamant that FTX not tease the commercial in advance of its Super Bowl debut and was delighted to find the ad agency and marketing team felt the same way. “He hates spoilers,” Schaffer notes, much preferring to just show up uninvited, like a pimple on an adult’s face. “You don’t know how it got there, but it’s there.”
Schaffer and his wife intend to watch the Super Bowl with David to see their creation in in the venue for which it was designed. “We want to see it live,” he says.
The Super Bowl offers creatives something they aren’t guaranteed anywhere else – a huge audience. Schaffer says he and David are eager to find out if they can please a big crowd. “When you make something, whatever it is, a show, a movie, and you’re proud of it, there’s always a fear in the back of your head: What if nobody sees it?” he asks. “With a Super Bowl, that removes all of those doubts. If we can keep people from going to the bathroom one minute longer, we have done our job.”