How Ryan Reynolds’ Marketing Agency Keeps Generating Viral Hits

March
17, 2021

14 min read

This article was translated from our English edition.


The scene opens in hell. We see flames. We hear screams. The camera then zooms in on Satan himself (big horns, giant pecs, bright red skin) as he collapses on his throne. Your phone rings. Watch the screen. “You are a couple!” He says. Satan perks up with wide eyes in amazement. The dark lord, apparently, is looking for love in Match.

Cut to: underpass of a bridge, in a park on Earth. There are trees. It’s calm. Satan hopes to meet his date. A woman approaches. “Hello, two-zero-two-zero?” Satan tells you. “Please,” she replies, “call me 2020.” Then it’s montage time: Satan and 2020 picnicking in an empty football stadium, doing yoga in an empty gym, stealing toilet paper and hanging out by a garbage can, and generally setting their hearts on fire as they watch it burn. the world.

When this Match ad debuted online in December 2020, it triggered an instant love party online. Ryan Reynolds expected the same. He co-wrote and produced the ad for his marketing company, Maximum Effort, which has become one of the most popular in the advertising world. “I myself would have paid [el anuncio de Match] just to make sure we did it, ”says Reynolds. “I felt pretty sure it would work. And when it worked, then I would send them the invoice. ” He laughs. But don’t worry about his compensation – he’s on the Match board too.

A pandemic-themed ad created for Match. Image: Courtesy of Maximum Effort.

Reynolds disliked marketing. He saw it as an obligation. And anyway, he was an actor; marketing was for other people. But then, he spent a decade trying to turn the strange superhero from Marvel, Deadpool in a movie, and even when 20th Century Fox eventually joined, the studio remained skeptical of its potential. So he teamed up with one of the studio’s marketing executives, George Dewey, who had spent 15 years at the mammoth McCann ad agency, and they launched a ridiculous guerilla campaign that generated so much excitement that Deadpool became the rated movie. Highest grossing R of all time. (And so did its sequel.)

“We started to see marketing as a completely different tool than we had in the shed, and something that we could really tell stories with,” says Reynolds. “Everything is a narrative; if you don’t pay attention to that, you are just broadcasting and not participating. “He and Dewey joined forces to build Maximum Effort, which has since produced consistent viral gems for a variety of projects, including companies Reynolds owns (most notably Aviation Gin and low-cost wireless company Mint Mobile). “Now I see marketing as one of the great joys of my life and my business.”

While shooting a movie in Vancouver recently, Reynolds took off to share what he learned about pushing the boundaries of what is creatively possible and pushing himself (and his team) to constantly reinvent himself.

Imagen: Guy Aroch

Tell me about your creative process. When you sit down and think about something like that Match ad, where do you start?

You know that line about how Shakespeare smuggled poetry into popular plays? Well, we are the opposite. We really feel that when someone is viewing an ad, there is no reason why they shouldn’t feel extremely entertaining, witty, and funny.

We want to bend, not break. We want to be able to comment on something like 2020 without being disrespectful to the harshness of that situation. So you have to put on some railings, and we love railings. Problems are our best friends, because they really inspire ideas and ways of creating. Even if it’s just “Our budget has to be X”. We can still get the job done and we have to think outside the box to deliver something that is of great quality. I mean, show business will teach you that. If you keep throwing money at a problem, that problem will only get worse.

I remember something that I have heard you say before: that you are happy that Aviation Gin had a smaller budget than its big competitors, because that forced you to be more demanding with your marketing

If someone says, “You have $ 10 million to shoot an ad,” most people’s reflex would be to say, “Okay, let’s start with some helicopter shots.” The city is in danger, a superhero arrives and lands and uses a skyscraper to block the alien ship. “Immediately, your brain widens and scales. But scope and scale can also be dialogue.

I learned this lesson while filming Deadpool. Every time the studio took money out of our budget, we replaced any missing pieces with dialogue. Over time, that became the hallmark and defining characteristic of that property. People don’t remember the nonsense of saving the world. They remember what you said or how you reacted to a moment. To me, that lesson is worth its weight in gold, because you can penetrate the spirit of the age and make an impression without spending a ton of money, without breaking the bank.

I mean, we live in a world that is so reactionary, so there is so much to play with. But here is a principle of our work: we do not want to be divisive. There is enough of that out there. I know it sounds super sweetening, maybe a little nauseating, but when we talk about the modus operandi of our company, we talk about bringing people together. So when we spoke to Match.com, who were nervous about this release, they told us: wait, your main characters are Satan and a woman named 2020? – we had to assure you that we are not here to divide. We are here to embrace something and bring people together in a common experience. When people have an emotional response to something, or find something incredibly funny, it travels.

Imagen: Guy Aroch

That seems to explain your marketing, which is often very simple. Most of the ads you produce are just a few people in a room, or you speaking directly into the camera. And what you’re saying here is that a big budget can make people forget about human connections.

Yes. I think the public is insensitive to the spectacle. We’ve all seen superheroes save the day. We have all seen a city in danger. I mean, when we were working on our Peloton Aviation Gin ad, all we were doing was recognizing the cultural landscape at the time and doing it in a way that didn’t attack Peloton.

[Para contexto: en 2019, Peloton lanzó un anuncio que inducía a una mujer cuyo esposo le compraba una bicicleta Peloton, y ella se obsesiona incómodamente con ella. Los críticos y los consumidores lo destrozaron, interpretando el anuncio como sexista o sordo. Días después, Maximum Effort lanzó un anuncio con la misma actriz, luciendo conmocionada, bebiendo martinis de Aviation Gin en un bar con dos novias y brindando por nuevos comienzos. Fue ampliamente elogiado como uno de los mejores momentos publicitarios de 2019].

I just thought there was such an interesting redemption in that. If we could find Monica Ruiz, the woman in the Peloton ad, we could give it a B-side: a look at this person from a different perspective, in a way that recognizes and plays with the cultural landscape and mood of the moment, but just to have fun with him. Do not divide more. Do not point fingers or belittle anyone. Just to acknowledge this.

We found Monica. I called her four or five different times because I was so nervous that this would backfire. It’s already so alienating when you’re the subject of all that energy and attention. But we did it. It was really where we started talking about “pouring fast” – getting things done with a speed and agility that others can’t, because Aviation Gin is owned by me, and so I don’t really have to climb a huge corporate ladder. I can only say, “Let’s do it.”

You just told two stories, Match and Peloton, in which you approached a potentially controversial topic and had to convince others that you had good intentions. What is your strategy for convincing people of seemingly scary ideas?

You must convince them that you are as risk averse as or more than they are. You want to be able to do something where everyone feels like you’re being provocative, but no one feels marginalized, attacked, or neglected. Always think of the same thesis: let’s bring people together. Let’s filter everything we do through a prism of joy, as opposed to cynicism or division. I mean, division is very viral, but it’s not our game. And it’s boring.

Your ads may be self-referential or present you as an overconfident doll. Like the announcement about Aviation Gin’s partnership with Virgin Atlantic. The catch was that you and Richard Branson were doing a commercial about the ad, but they barely understood what was happening. Where does this instinct to flip advertising come from?

It depends on what we are doing. I mean, with the companies that I have, I feel an obligation to be transparent. It does not mean that transparency cannot be drenched in irony, self-awareness, or nonsense. When I’m up front, I usually play with preconceived notions about celebrity or the commercial space. We lean on the things that a lot of people traditionally shy away from, which is “Hey, this is an ad. We are acknowledging and playing with the cultural landscape in this ad. And we’re telling them that we’re doing it. ”Let people be a part of it.

Reynolds with Richard Branson in a commercial for Aviation Gin. Image: Courtesy of Aviation Gin

If I’m straying even further, I look at our company and our goal is to improve radically. But it is not radically improved only in the creative, because everyone is going to have great ideas. Our goal is to radically improve in new and ingenious ways. Rethinking things is also our favorite activity. If I hadn’t guessed all the decisions I’ve made since I came out of the womb, I don’t know if I’d be in the position I’m in. I think it’s okay to rethink things, even good ideas! I mean, if you’re satisfied with just making money, you won’t be a disruptor for long.

As any entrepreneur knows, there is a difference between wanting innovation and creating a culture that encourages innovation. How do you do it?

I always say that you cannot be good at something unless you are willing to be bad. And as I got older, I felt a lot more comfortable not having the answers. I think it’s a great leadership tool to be able to say, “I don’t know.” The worst leaders I have ever worked with or been with are the ones who are firm and outraged in their righteousness and are genuinely concerned about their image. So I love to say, “I don’t know.”

Everyone in the company has different specializations and different interests, which we encourage and want to grow. I want the people who work at Maximum Effort to feel like the CEO. I want everyone to move in a direction that is truly inspiring for them.

And that has worked so far. I don’t claim to know exactly how to run a business. But I think the people who run companies don’t know it either! It’s great to be curious and to be present. Innovation is always born out of curiosity.

When I look at all these things that I am involved in, cultivating them has been a pleasure. Particularly Mint Mobile. It’s like another strange blank that you don’t hear about too often: Celebrities endorse, or are part of, or in my case, they own companies that are pragmatic and practical, rather than aspirational and luxurious. I think there is something super sexy, fun and cool about practicality and pragmatism. Mint Mobile is a company that basically offers an essential service for a fraction of the cost of the big carriers. So for me, it was a no-brainer to be a part of it, to put all the Maximum Effort muscle behind it.

You have the ability to be one step ahead of the culture, to participate in the next part of the conversation. What is your advice on how to do that?

Well, you’d be an idiot if you didn’t recognize now. But as a company, we are talking about 2022 right now. It’s just that balance of: We love culture. We know that culture is typically very current. But we also love to think ahead and see where we would like to be and what we would like to do, and try to manifest that as best we can.

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How Ryan Reynolds’ Marketing Agency Keeps Generating Viral Hits