The Betty White commercial propelled Snickers from seventh place into category leadership.
In 2009, Snickers needed to be rejuvenated at the time of the brief. It was an iconic brand, but after years of advertising to a niche audience of teenage boys, it was no longer top of mind for many consumers.
The task was to remind a broader audience that Snickers offered something for everyone, and the timeline was short: the brand wanted to introduce its new campaign during the 2010 Super Bowl—just 4 months away.
Peter Kain & Gianfranco Arena at BBDO, New York, were one of several teams briefed on the assignment.
Peter Kain remembers, “We saw that Snickers had historically done well when positioned as a way to satisfy hunger between meals. Snickers is more substantial and filling than other candy bars, so this was a unique attribute they could own if we could find a new and fun way to communicate it.”
They thought about hunger and its effects on people—how the lack of blood sugar can cause drastic, temporary personality changes, making people short-tempered, loopy, and confused—and they realized there were many “symptoms” of being hungry. Peter says, “When we thought about how to dramatize those symptoms, it seemed funny to imagine them as celebrities with similar personality traits.”
They wrote a few scripts in which celebs became the hungry alter-egos of regular people—one starring Aretha Franklin, one with Betty White, one with Joe Pesci. They liked the potential for comedy in seeing these famous, larger-than-life personalities in mundane, everyday situations. And in writing those, they arrived pretty quickly at the line that would define the campaign:” You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
Peter recollects, “We knew the scripts had potential, but the performances of those first few celebrities, with the help of our director Craig Gillespie, brought the magic. Betty White was a brilliant actor, and not only did she nail her dialogue, but she perfectly captured the posture and mannerisms of a twenty-something dude playing football. Aretha was just herself, and that was perfect.”
The campaign was launched with Betty’s spot, and it won the “admeter” for best super bowl commercial of that year. That helped give the campaign momentum to expand globally. It runs in over 80 countries and has helped elevate Snickers from the #7 to the #1 global chocolate brand.
It’s no secret that Betty White’s fame predated her Super Bowl XLIV Snickers ad. With the help of this commercial, fans rallied to have White, then 88 years old, headline Saturday Night Live, the comedy show whose skits have inspired several films.
As a result of the ad, she landed a role in the comedy Hot In Cleveland, costarring with Jane Leeves from Frasier. The programme ran for six seasons. She has appeared as a guest star in series like Bones and lent her voice to films like The Lorax and Toy Story 4, in which she gave voice to a character called Bitey White.
A special thanks to Peter Kain, who took me through the creation of the commercial