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Chobani's 1,400-Pound Super Bowl Bet

For Chobani's first Super Bowl spot, the yogurt brand partnered with ad agency Droga5. Here's an inside look at how the ad came together.
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The Broncos and the Seahawks won't be the only ones facing off during this weekend's Super Bowl. On Sunday, Oikos and Chobani, two of the country's top Greek yogurt brands, will also be going head to head in an advertising battle that some are calling the "yogurt wars."

Of course, Dannon, the multibillion global conglomerate that owns Oikos, has done this all before. This year, it's pulling out all the stops with an ad that features spokesman John Stamos, as well as his Full House castmates Bob Saget and Dave Coulier, which has already led to a slew of pre-Super Bowl enthusiasm about the spot.

For Chobani, on the other hand, this is a first. Not only has the company never produced a Super Bowl commercial, but it never even had a chief marketing officer before August. What's more, the creative agency Chobani picked, Droga5, has never produced a Super Bowl commercial, either (though it did come up with this brilliant marketing campaign for Newcastle beer about not advertising at the Super Bowl. If you haven't watched it yet, do it).

Needless to say, on the one day of the year when consumers actually want to watch commercials, competition for these two newcomers is bound to be stiff. I spoke with Peter McGuinness, Chobani's new CMO, as well as Droga5 creative directors Rick Dodds and Steve Howell to find out how they brought the finished product--an ad about a discerning bear ransacking a rural grocery store in its quest for something natural to eat--to fruition.

How It Started

"I was hired August 1st, and on August 2nd, I knew we had to do the Super Bowl," says McGuinness. Chobani, interestingly enough, is the country's No. 1 yogurt brand in terms of market share, but it has only 37 percent brand awareness. "I knew we had to go for a big awareness push," McGuinness says. "The Super Bowl's a no-brainer in terms of driving awareness."

So he launched a search for an advertising agency, a competitive bid that took until early September. Every pitch was better than the next, making McGuinness's decision a tough one, but it was Droga5 that stole his heart with its proposal to base the ad, and Chobani's other ads going forward, around the theme How Matters, to reflect the fact that Chobani is unique in its dedication to natural ingredients.  

"We loved it from the moment we heard it," McGuinness says. "There aren't a lot of 'how' brands out there, because the 'how' could be pretty scary. You definitely don't want to know how a hot dog's made, but for us, we actually can go heavy on the 'how.'"

Dodds and Howell say the concept came easily to Droga5's creative team, which, in their line of business, is refreshing. "We spend most of our careers looking at products and trying to figure out what to say about them," says Dodds. "With Chobani, they already have a great thing to say."

Celebrity or Bear Cameo?

Once Droga5 landed the contract, it had about a month to pull a storyboard together for the advertsement itself. The biggest challenge, Dodds says, was trying to deliver a serious message about the way food is made on one of the most gluttonous days of the year. "Let's face it, more chicken wings are probably consumed during the Super Bowl than any other day," he says. "Trying to talk about why health matters, you risk being a party pooper. We had to do it in a way that would still be entertaining."

The team began researching the grocery market and found startling statistics about the amount of processed food in the average grocery-store aisle. "There's very little that's actually natural," says Dodds, adding that Chobani is, in most places, one of a handful of options.

Unlike Chobani's competitors, McGuinness says he wasn't interested in a celebrity endorsement. "Celebrities feel like borrowed equity," he says. "We're not opposed to it down the line, but we wouldn't start there. This is the first expression of who we are and why 'how' matters."

It wasn't long after that that Dodds and Howell began tossing around the idea of featuring a bear in the spot. "Bears are famed for eating everything and anything," Dodds says. "So a great device for us to use would be to show a bear doing the opposite, because it's not actually natural food a bear would eat."

The final storyline shows a bear tearing a grocery store to pieces, only to walk away with a Chobani honey yogurt, plucked from a shelf full of Chobani yogurt, the only items in the store the bear doesn't destroy. Chobani bought the idea on the spot. Better yet, it bought the second option, a more sophisticated (and not yet released) concept, for the Oscars. 

The 1,400-Pound Question

With the storyboard approved, all that was left was to make the thing. Neither McGuinness nor Droga5 is willing to share the budget they were working with, but they did hire Homeland star Mandy Patinkin to do the voice-over. Droga5 also found a real 1,400-pound bear to feature in the spot. "We wanted to make sure the authentic qualities we're associating with Chobani came through in our work," says Dodds. "We wanted the bear to be real and for it to feel cinematic, not slapstick or cheap."

In the end, though, Dodds says, the most important thing to accomplish with a Super Bowl ad is not to inform or even impress, but to entertain. "You can't take an audience like that and bore them," he says. "There's so much great advertising out there; you have to be memorable."

So, did Chobani score a touchdown with its first foray into game day? See for yourself:

IMAGE: Chobani
Last updated: Jan 31, 2014




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