Ted Danson goes for six and 15-second laughs in new Smirnoff campaign

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From his breakthrough performance on "Cheers" to his current role in NBC's "The Good Place," Ted Danson is accustomed to winning over audiences in increments of 30 minutes. But in a new campaign, Smirnoff vodka asks the Emmy-winning actor to condense his wit and charm into bite-sized chunks of six and 15-second ads.

The ads, part of a new campaign by 72andSunny, include one improvised spot in which Danson seems exacerbated that he has to cram a message into six seconds. "He didn't know what a six-second ad was, so we kind of ad-libbed that one, which is fantastic. It worked out great," says Jay Sethi, VP-Smirnoff in North America for brand owner Diageo.

Blink-and-you'll-miss-it ads are of course the new normal as marketers tailor their content for digital, while seeking to gain notice form the ever-shrinking-attention span of perpetually distracted TV viewers. Smirnoff will run 15-second ads on TV, featuring Danson interacting with other celebrities, including actress Jenna Fischer, Jonathan Van Ness of Netflix's "Queer Eye," actress and LGBT activist Laverne Cox and comedian and actress Nicole Byer. In one ad, Danson and Van Ness convene over thimble-sized cocktails.

The campaign, called "Welcome to the Fun%," continues Smirnoff's approach of portraying the vodka as affordable and suitable for a broad swath of consumers. The anti-snobbery play on "the one percent" seeks to counter more expensive and exclusive brands.

Danson began appearing in Smirnoff ads last year in a campaign called "Only the Best for Everyone." This year's effort puts a premium on brevity. "Last year we produced 60s, 30s and 15s and this time around I didn't even bother with the 60 or the 30, I just went right to the 15s and then made sixes, too," Sethi says. "People have shorter attention spans." But the brand also likes the media efficiencies iot gets with shorter-form ads, he adds.

The bite-sized approach "just makes you very disciplined," Danson said in an interview. "You have one joke that has to be crystal clear," he says. But spots must also contain the message Smirnoff wants to portray. "So it's a real puzzle but very challenging and very fun."

Joe Mande, one of the writers for "The Good Place" was on set and helped adjust the ad scripts on the fly, Danson says. He did the same thing with last year's campaign.

"A lot of times you can write something that feels funny," Danson says. "And then when you get it up on its feet and you are shooting on the day with the actors, all the sudden you go, 'Oops, this is not really as funny as we thought.' So to have somebody like Joe and the other writers from the ad agency there to make corrections is a luxury."

The campaign comes as Smirnoff continues to fend off fast-rising Tito's vodka, which has used a folksy marketing approach to plug its "handmade vodka" positioning. Smirnoff led all vodka brands with $314 million in sales in the 52 weeks ending July 15, according to IRI, which does not include bar sales. But its sales dipped slightly (by 0.3 percent) while Tito's surged 35.7 percent to $266 million, according to IRI. Smirnoff must also contend with the risking number of smaller, often regional, "craft vodkas."

Smirnoff, with its celebrity-filled ads, embraces its bigness in an era where small brands are often perceived by drinkers as the hipper choice. Sethi is unapologetic. "We are leaning into who we are because we think it's about being authentic. When you are the world's number one vodka, sure you are big. But that also means we have products available for everyone," he says. "It would be inauthentic to pretend to be small. So instead we are choosing to be who we are."

Below, a couple more spots from the campaign:

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