Squarespace skips Super Bowl, debuts Idris Elba campaign directed by Spike Jonze

Brand sits out game but sticks with celebrity talent

Published On
Jan 30, 2019

Editor's Pick

After appearing in the Super Bowl for five years straight, Squarespace announced it would sit out advertising's biggest day this year. Yet, just as peak Big Game ad frenzy is getting underway, the company has dropped a new brand campaign with some very big names—actor Idris Elba and director Spike Jonze.

Elba, recently named People's "Sexiest Man Alive," stars in a new spot and online film which cast him in a different light than what he's best known for--his serious, dark performances as troubled detective John Luther in the U.K. series "Luther" and as drug trafficker Stringer Bell in HBO's "The Wire." In the spot, we see him appearing in a dream-like scenario, incongruously yet delightfully lip syncing to a young girl's rendition of "Que Sera Sera" as he fantasizes about what he could become--a boxer, an astronaut, a puppeteer, a pastry chef and more. The endline reads, "Dream It. Make It."

Accompanying the spot is a comedic short in which Elba, between takes of the commercial shoot, builds a website for his fashion line 2HR Set with the help of his executive assistant, played by British comedian Lolly Adefope. As a snarky foil, she may be the campaign's breakout star as she takes the piss out of Elba's superstardom--"He's so muscular!" she raves about one of his unnamed co-stars. When the actor says he wants to address his fans on the site, she pipes back, "I sort of think of a fan as someone who loves your work." The campaign, like last year's Super Bowl work, was created in-house.


According to Squarespace Chief Creative Officer David Lee, it's a departure from efforts past in that it takes a broad, aspirational approach versus previous outings that were more focused. "We really want this campaign to inspire big dreams and even bigger actions and get across the message that you shouldn't be limited to having dreams only when you're a kid," Lee says. "Our previous campaigns depicted stories centered around one single business."

As for the idea itself, Lee says that his in-house team approached Jonze with the concept, which he helped to "elevate and make as memorable to the viewer as possible, injecting his signature dreamlike style." The team had the idea to use "Que Sera, Sera," but Jonze and team took it further and suggested using a little girl's voice, along with backing from The Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children "to help create an imperfect and fragile version of the song," says Lee. "The selection of the London children's choir was deliberate, as we wanted to tie the song back to Idris' Hackney roots."

As for the short film, Squarespace in-house developed it with Jonze, around the idea that building a site on Squarespace is so easy, Elba could do it between takes of the ad without even having to take off his costume.

The spot will be running in the U.S. and internationally, with additional promotion through Squarespace's various channels. The company also redesigned (in real life) the site for Elba's 2HR Set, which allows Elba to capture emails from current and future customers to help assist in announcements of future product drops. Following the release of 2HR Set's next collection, the site will feature commerce capabilities that leverage a new Squarespace feature that allows Instagram shopping.

The pairing of Elba and Jonze seems to cement the brand's commitment to using top entertainment talents. Director Jonze, repped out of MJZ for commercials, was behind the Oscar-nominated film "Being John Malkovich" as well as Apple's much decorated "Welcome Home" short film from last year. Last year's Super Bowl spot was helmed by acclaimed director Jonathan Glazer ("Sexy Beast," "Under the Skin") and starred Keanu Reeves, while previous ads included the Emmy-winning turn with John Malkovich and spots with Key and Peele and Jeff Bridges.

Along with his acting, Elba's multi-faceted interests (he's in the Coachella line-up this year) served as a fitting springboard for this story. "Featuring someone with multiple side passions like Idris gave us the opportunity to play around with various roles and settings," Lee says. "The careers you see Idris playing in the spot demonstrate that it's possible, and worth it, to pursue your wildest dreams, especially with a platform like Squarespace that can help you make it happen."

Lee says that in working with celebrities, it's a very deliberate process that goes beyond a surface-level "Do we think they fit."

"It's key for us to hone in on authentic customer stories, whether the talent is already a customer or we work with them to use our suite of products in an authentic way," he says. "When we have that connection, it allows for the talent to become much more invested in the outcome of the campaign."

The pairing of Elba and Jonze seems like the perfect recipe for Super Bowl fare--so why opt out of the Big Game? "Instead of tying our Q1 creative to an existing cultural moment like the Super Bowl, we decided to release the ad as soon as it was ready," Lee says. "We wanted to create our own buzz based on the merits of the high-caliber talent we're working with, and with our reputation for producing impactful creative."