To generate social media buzz around its first Super Bowl spot, CeraVe didn’t want to rely on the traditional playbook of just posting a teaser or uploading its full Big Game commercial to social media. Instead, the skincare brand recruited a fleet of more than 450 influencers to fuel speculation and lead the online conversation around the question at the heart of its Super Bowl campaign: Did Michael Cera create CeraVe?
Inside CeraVe’s Super Bowl influencer campaign
“It's one thing for CeraVe to say it, but it's way cooler when other people are the ones saying it,” said Adam Kornblum, senior VP and global head of digital marketing for CeraVe. “So, running an influencer program where others are doing the speaking instead of the brand was definitely the focal point of our Super Bowl approach.”
CeraVe sought to build an “immersive storytelling experience” around its Super Bowl campaign in the weeks leading up to the Big Game, Kornblum said, and it got hundreds of influencer partners to play various roles in telling that story. In January, TikTok creators such as Haley Kalil, Hannah Kosh and Audrey Trullinger began sparking discussions around Cera’s possible involvement in the brand.
Kalil filmed the actor signing bottles of CeraVe moisturizer at a pharmacy in Brooklyn, New York; Kosh highlighted Kalil’s video and shared theories about what Cera’s actions could imply; and Trullinger dug through a PR package of CeraVe products emblazoned with Cera’s face and signature—likely including some of the bottles Kalil caught him signing.
The brand shipped those Cera-themed boxes of product to more than 400 influencers, some as part of a brand deal but most without any context that the package was part of CeraVe’s Super Bowl campaign. The boxes, clumsily wrapped in tape featuring Cera’s face, were intentionally made to “look janky, because we knew that they’d be receiving lots of different boxes from different brands,” said Charlotte Tansill, president of Ogilvy PR, social & influence, North America.
CeraVe developed and executed its Super Bowl campaign with WPP, led by Ogilvy PR North America, which helped the skincare brand flesh out the different stages of its influencer campaign leading up to the Big Game.
“We could have just done the TV spot with Michael Cera and CeraVe,” Tansill said, “but we saw an opportunity to do it in this first-of-its-kind way, where the narrative really rolls out over a three-week campaign and you’re sort of following the beginning, the middle and the end over time, as opposed to it all needing to happen within the commercial itself.”
Four key creators
Influencers—both dermatologists and more traditional beauty and skincare influencers—have been a core part of CeraVe’s marketing strategy for the past two years. The brand has also partnered with TikTok stars including Charli D’Amelio, Emma Chamberlain and Avani Gregg, among others.
CeraVe and Ogilvy centered the Super Bowl influencer push around four key creators: Caleb Simpson, who’s amassed nearly 8 million TikTok followers by asking people how much they pay for rent and asking to tour their homes; Bobbi Althoff, host of “The Really Good Podcast,” who went viral last year for her intentionally cringeworthy celebrity interviews; Kalil, whose video of Cera next to a display of CeraVe products helped kick off the campaign; and Dr. Muneeb Shah, a dermatologist with more than 18 million TikTok followers who is a longstanding CeraVe partner.
The four creators each featured Cera himself in their CeraVe-sponsored content, and one day of the brand’s two-day Super Bowl campaign shoot was devoted entirely to filming the influencers’ videos, Tansill said. For example, Althoff interviewed Cera in a dressing room (until the actor walked off camera when she questioned his connection to CeraVe), while Simpson toured Cera’s private trailer filled with CeraVe products the actor had signed. Shah, meanwhile, confronted Cera about whether he truly was the creator of CeraVe and pelted him with questions about the brand’s products and their ingredients.
The influencers handled the editing process to ensure their videos aligned with their characteristic video styles, Tansill said.
“This was less about us briefing someone and saying ‘you have to do this a certain way,’” Kornblum said. “Instead, we said, ‘Here’s the story we’re looking to tell. You are famous for what you do, because you’re great at what you do, and we want you to do that here.’ CeraVe is definitely an important part of the story, but how that story is told is really through the influencers and in their voice.”
CeraVe also turned over creative control to roughly 60 additional influencers, paid by the brand to contribute to the speculation around Cera’s relation to the brand, Tansill said. Those creators range from macro-influencers such as Emira D’Spain and Robyn DelMonte—who fulfilled the role of “news-breaker” or “Cera-spiracist” and spoke with their audiences about the potential meaning behind their packages full of CeraVe products and Cera’s face—to CeraVe’s existing dermatologist partners, who came in afterward to debunk the rumors about Cera being behind the brand.
CeraVe also brought on several micro-influencers to generate buzz around the campaign, including @bunnypenny007, who posted a TikTok last August joking about Cera’s possible connection to the brand.
After CeraVe’s influencer partners drove the initial wave of conversation around Cera’s involvement in the skincare brand and were subsequently debunked by dermatologists, several of them played on the trope of the “influencer apology video” and shared their own faux apologies for contributing to the rumors.
Super Bowl week
Even after the storyline of Cera’s possible connection to the skincare brand was firmly established, CeraVe and Ogilvy tapped several additional creators to act as “extenders” over Super Bowl weekend and keep the buzz going ahead of the brand’s Big Game ad, Tansill said. Rather than partnering only with beauty and skincare influencers, the brand looked to extend the campaign into different TikTok subcultures, she said. For example, CeraVe sponsored videos from comedy creators David Burleson and Jericho Mencke.
And during the game, CeraVe and Ogilvy brought Shah into their Super Bowl war room to create real-time video content in response to social media conversations around the brand and its reveal that Cera was the star of its Super Bowl spot, Kornblum said.
When it comes to influencers’ involvement in Super Bowl campaigns, “previously, I think we’d say ‘Okay, here’s the TV spot, how can we partner with influencers to amplify it to get more sort of eyeballs on the TV spot?’” Tansill said. “But what this campaign does—and what we’re starting to see a couple of others do, too—is do the inverse and put influencers first, and put them in the driver’s seat of leading that story.”
By the Wednesday before the Super Bowl, when CeraVe dropped the teaser for its Big Game ad, the brand’s influencer-led campaign had already generated 6 billion impressions “without a dollar in paid media,” she said. “You don’t have to go further than that to sort of see and understand the power of an influencer-first approach.”