How Cheetos shot its Super Bowl spot during COVID-19: Anatomy of an Ad
Mila Kunis is doing her best to focus so she can complete another take in her first Super Bowl commercial, but it's a challenge for her not to break out in laughter as she stands in a shower and Ashton Kutcher keeps pulling back the curtain.
“Baby, could you not look at me?” she asks Kutcher.
Kunis and Kutcher, married in 2015, are two stars of the latest Cheetos Super Bowl commercial. Like all ads shot during COVID-19, the crew, talent and agency had to navigate strict safety guidelines. And because this ad will run on advertising's biggest stage, the margin for error is slim. Ad Age got exclusive access to the shoot, via Zoom, for a behind the scenes look at how they pulled it off.
In the spot, Kunis finds Kutcher's bag of the new Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix so tasty that she hides throughout the house, including in the shower, to keep it all to herself.
Details are tweaked each time Kutcher pulls back the shower curtain to catch Kunis with the bag. Perhaps it’s the way he sing-speaks his line, “you even had them in the shower,” or how he stares into the mirror and then turns, or how she strategically clutches the bag. Plus, her fingertips, meant to showcase “Cheetle” — that orange dust that inevitably gets on one’s fingers while eating Cheetos — need to be seen at just the right angle.
“I’m sorry, I know the camera’s really heavy,” Kunis tells the camera person as the couple continues with takes during the bathroom scene.
Another take begins. Soon, Kunis is heard uttering “it wasn’t me,” a phrase that will be heard dozens of times during the shoot and is the premise of the 60-second commercial.
This is Cheetos’ second consecutive Super Bowl shoot with creative agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and they worked together on Cheetos’ 2009 Super Bowl spot. Even with that familiarity, things had to change this year to meet COVID-19 protocols.
The number of people on set was reduced from a typical Super Bowl shoot. Many who may have traveled to the Los Angeles set in pre-COVID-19 times instead watched remotely.
For those who made the trip, each person who isn’t one of the three actors in the commercial is wearing a face covering. Plenty of them, including director Bryan Buckley, have doubled up with a mask and a clear face shield. They also wear wristbands, the new way to show on commercial shoots where someone is allowed to be and how close they can get to the unmasked talent.
Stand-ins for the actors have masks and face shields on, which means it would be even more challenging for them to grab a bite of Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix, if any is nestled into the perfectly placed bags.
Later in the day, the crew shoots Kutcher in the bathroom on his own, with the camera placed where Kunis would be standing during the scene. He does numerous takes of opening the shower curtain, acting out how he’d react upon finding his wife snacking in the secret spot.
Kunis and Kutcher are working together for the first time since appearing on “That ‘70s Show,” which ended its run in 2006. The comedic timing they honed during that series and in other acting roles is helpful when shooting a commercial and two teasers.
Earlier in the day Kutcher sat in a dimly-lit home office, repeatedly looking at a manila folder stuffed with photos and a flattened Cheetos Crunch Pop Mix bag. That footage was used as the brand’s first teaser, "Evidence," released Jan. 14.
A few hours go by, the Zoom feed from the set largely silent. Lights and props are moved. Stand-ins mark the places where the actors will be positioned in the next scenes.
In one, Shaggy begins upstairs, then walks downstairs as updated lines to his hit "It Wasn't Me" play. He points out spots of Cheetle along the airy stairwell. The next scene finds Kunis hiding in a closet with the bag.
Later, it’s time for Kunis and Shaggy to work on their teaser. The viewer sees Kunis tearfully agonizing over an accusation. Soon, she turns toward Shaggy. “Too much?” she asks. “Just stick to the line I gave you,” Shaggy replies, before the beats from his 2000 hit play to end the spot. This teaser," Advice," debuts Jan. 19.
Frito-Lay brought Cheetos back to the Super Bowl last year for the first time since 2009's "Spoiled Girl." The 2020 spot also relied on a musician's comical skills, as MC Hammer popped up in numerous scenes to show how a guy eating a bag of Cheetos Popcorn could get out of situations due to his Cheetle-dusted fingers in a “U Can’t Touch This”-themed commercial.
"It wasn't necessarily that we were looking for a music idea to follow MC Hammer, it just happened that way because the idea was so good," says Marissa Solis, senior VP of portfolio marketing, Frito-Lay North America.
The 2020 spot launched the brand's “It’s a Cheetos Thing” tagline. "The Shaggy spot just felt like a natural evolution of that campaign," says Margaret Johnson, chief creative officer at Goodby.
Cheetos’ sales soared in 2020, though the boost wasn’t entirely due to the Super Bowl spot. People stocking up on snacks to eat during the coronavirus pandemic certainly helped the brand and the overall category. Cheetos total U.S. dollar sales rose 11.9% to $2.52 billion in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, according to research firm IRI. Sales of Doritos, the other Frito-Lay brand in the Super Bowl, rose 6.2% to $2.92 billion during that period. And sales of Pringles, a Kellogg Co. rival in the game for the fourth time this year, rose 8.5% to $997 million.
Cheetos' 60-second spot is set to run during the third quarter of the Super Bowl. It was released online on Monday. Below, the finished product.
To keep track of all the advertisers running national spots in the game, bookmark Ad Age’s regularly updated Super Bowl ad chart.
Join Ad Age on Feb. 2 for a look at how brands including Cheetos are navigating the pandemic and addressing diversity in their ads for the 2021 game.
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