Hulu’s Super Bowl ad didn’t introduce anything new. It didn’t throw any jabs at other streaming services. It didn’t really even make much of an effort to sell a strength. But what it did do—something that a lot of TV ads struggle with—was get its audience’s undivided attention.
This ad masterfully harnessed power of the rumors that Tom Brady could be switching teams or retiring. He’s 42, his team is facing down the end of a brilliant two decades of dominance, and their early out this year seemed to suggest that the end for the Brady-Belichick era.
It played brilliantly on the timing of these events with a one-two punch of social media and Super Bowl TV advertising.
The first few weeks after being eliminated from the playoffs are typically when professional athletes announce their intentions for the next season if there are any doubts.
And, on January 30th, Brady posted the below Tweet without any context.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) January 30, 2020
Many commenters posted sentiments and gifs lamenting the end of his time with the Patriots. There was lamentation, disbelief, and denial.
Brady said nothing.
The next Tweet Brady made was two days later—right after kickoff. It featured a photo of Brady with several Hall-of-Famers with the caption “Pats Nation”.
Pats Nation ❤️ pic.twitter.com/bcUThqGsGF
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) February 2, 2020
Again, fans speculated that the Tweet had significance. This time, they thought it meant he was staying. After taking them to the top of the rollercoaster with the first tweet, many were sure that he was staying in New England and that the crisis was over.
About an hour later, an ad opened with a somber piano playing and Tom Brady’s voice speaking with a resigned finality.
The cinematography of the establishing shot exactly matched the January 30th Tweet that so many had reacted to. If I were a Patriots fan, my stomach probably would’ve dropped.
The first thing you see in the ad is Brady walking toward the light at the end of the players tunnel, while his voiceover utters, “They say, all good things must come to an end”.
When you hear the finality in his voice, see the stark contrast created by tunnel and the light outside in the establishing shot, and hear the distant clunk of stadium lights being shut down as he talks about things coming to an end, the ad seems to point to no other alternative than the end of his time in New England.
I was at a rather rowdy Super Bowl party, but the whole room went quiet. The ad had succeeded in getting the audience’s attention.
Then it slowed the pacing a bit to allow the audience the chance to talk amongst themselves about what they were witnessing. The director worked in some empty time with a horizontally panning shot that spun around Brady, and then a static shot of Gillette Stadium, as Brady thanked his family, teammates, and friends.
In contrast to the preceding shots that held some meaningful imagery (the light at the end of the tunnel, the stadium flood lights shutting off), these shots were rather predictable, as were Brady’s thanks to his supporters.
Party-goers snuck in their takes in rushed whispers:
“…Is he retiring?”
“Ohhh %*$& he’s retiring”
“Is this what that tweet was about?”
But these conversations were silenced when the thanks came to an end and Brady said, “You deserve to hear this from me”. After a slow fade-to-black, Brady was back, front-and-center, staring into the camera. The music cut.
“Hulu doesn’t have live sports.
Some laughed. Some cursed at the screen.
But it was so clever that you couldn’t help but tip your hat to the ad’s creators. The pacing was done so well that the aftershock had died down by the time Brady mentioned “It’s time to say goodbye to TV as you know it”.
The ad did a great job of stirring up emotions within its audience. Human memory is more vivid when it is tied to a particularly strong emotion. Pathos is one of the cornerstones of persuasion.TV advertising is still unmatched in its capability of eliciting an emotional response.
The potential goodbye to a great (probably the greatest) quarterback ever isn’t hugely emotional, but it was played up so well and was executed in such a fashion that Hulu’s message—a goodbye to TV as you know it—will surely be stored the memory of those who followed the story when it began on social media.