Pretty, pretty, pretty…surprisingly.
FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange, did its best to stand out in its first Super Bowl commercial by bringing in an actor who had never appeared in commercials before: Larry David.
David, best known for his upsetting and curmudgeonly humor, took to the Super Bowl stage for FTX in a one-minute commercial that showed him dismissing some of the best ideas in history, era by era. In various historical mini-dramas, David dismisses the wheel, the fork, the toilet, the light bulb, the Walkman, and even the notion of American independence (because “even the stupidest” will have a chance to sway big decisions policies.)
He’s not much into cryptocurrency either. After the comedian dismisses many of history’s greatest inventions, someone tries to get a modern-day David interested in new technology. “No, I don’t think so,” he said. “And I’m never wrong about that stuff. Never.”
FTX “got the grapes to do a commercial where Larry David says he won’t use the product,” says Jeff Schaffer, who ran the commercial and worked for years with David on “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.
Embracing David’s antagonism is part of the company’s marketing strategy, notes Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder and CEO of FTX. “We need to meet people where they are – and that means embracing skepticism,” he said in a statement. “Many of the people who are now the biggest advocates of crypto once had significant reserves.”
FTX is arguably hoping to have the best word on a new category of Super Bowl advertising, cryptocurrency. His spot is competing for attention during NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI with ads from Coinbase and Crypto.com.
Still, the company clearly thinks it has a winning strategy, using the surprise of David’s appearance and the elaborate storyline. “Who better to downplay the sum of human achievement – and get it wrong?” asks Schaffer.
David is asked to do commercials “pretty regularly,” says Schaffer, but often he can’t get past the creative concept that agencies and marketers have in mind. “A lot of times when you have the idea, they’ve already worked really hard on it, and they’re really proud of it, and they want to do it that way. A lot of times we have a different take on things,” he says. In this case, FTX’s ad agency, dentsuMB, had a concept “that we were completely in tune with” and “we got excited and started writing little sketches in different time periods.” he says, it’s the fact that “Larry and I aren’t the most tech-savvy people on the planet.”
The announcement has been in the works since before October when Dentsu approached David. He and his team had finished the final season of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” — a time, Schaffer says, when David is distraught and pondering what, if anything, he could tackle next. “The timing was perfect. We weren’t shooting. We weren’t editing.
The ad itself, however, was not filmed until early January. “It was a blitz,” Schaffer recalls, with teams picking locations around Los Angeles. Knott’s Berry Farm had a “full-scale representation of the Continental Congress,” making it an ideal location to record the scene where David attempts to end the birth of the United States in 1776.” We have just finished coloring final on the long form on Wednesday,” he said.
Each thumbnail had its own requirements. In a scene where David rejects the concept of toilets, he is in full Elizabethan attire. In the scene where David makes fun of the Walkman’s viability, he had to learn Japanese phrases that he could shout out on command. “He had to be able to shout it,” Schaffer says. “We couldn’t feed him every 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 conference room, he should be able to get by.
By the time everything was wrapped up, Schaffer says, the company had enough material for a two-and-a-half-minute trailer that will debut online after the 60-second version slated for television on Sunday night.
David was also adamant that FTX wouldn’t tease publicity ahead of its Super Bowl debut and was pleased to find that the ad agency and marketing team felt the same way. “He hates spoilers,” Schaffer notes, much preferring to show up uninvited, like a pimple on an adult’s face. “You don’t know how he got there, but he is there.”
Schaffer and his wife plan to watch the Super Bowl with David to see their creation in the venue it was designed for. “We want to see it live,” he says.
The Super Bowl gives creatives something they’re not guaranteed anywhere else: a large audience. Schaffer says he and David are keen to see if they can appeal to a big crowd. “When you do something, anything, a show, a movie, and you’re proud of it, there’s always a fear behind your head: what if no one sees it?” he asks. “With a Super Bowl, it removes all those doubts. If we can stop people from going to the bathroom for one more minute, we’ve done our job.