Pringles’ 2020 Super Bowl ad is essentially a micro-episode of Rick and Morty, and the internet loves it.
This is Pringles’ third attempt at getting us on board with the rather odd idea of ‘flavour stacking’ via a funny Super Bowl commercial. And they may have finally cracked it.
The first ad, back in 2018, featured Saturday Night Live’s master of funny noises Bill Hader at the craft services table on a film set – amazed to discover two of the crew flavour stacking. This one looks like comedy, sounds like comedy, and smells like comedy – but they relied too much on the central idea (which was weird, but not “funny”), and committed the cardinal sin of humour in advertising: they forgot to write any actual jokes.
In 2019 they had another go. Two friends who are once again inexplicably flavour stacking ponder how many combinations there are. They’re interrupted by an Alexa-type device who answers that question (318,000), and then mourns the fact that she’ll never be able to taste any of them. This one would’ve been funnier than the last ad – if only the jokes weren’t derailed by the cognitive dissonance of our brains screaming, “Why are you trying to make this a thing, Pringles?!”
It’s 2020, and they’re back again for another bite of the cherry.
This time, thankfully, instead of asking the ad men and women to be funny, they asked the funny people to write the ad.
What They Did
As with the previous iterations, we’re looking at a tight 30 seconds. Well, those Super Bowl time slots don’t come cheap.
We open on an ad within an ad.
This flatly delivered self-satire is funny in itself, but also rapidly sets up the premise and clearly underlines the spot’s sales message so it doesn’t get lost in the madness that follows.
Pulling back reveals Rick and Summer, who slag off the previous ads – much like we did a minute ago.
Unlike the 2019 version, this ad keeps rapid pace. At just 4 seconds in, Morty enters and starts babbling about Pringles flavor stacks. In a satisfying callback, he makes the ‘spicy barbecue pizza stack’ – the combo from the original Bill Hader spot. Rick sees through it and launches himself at Morty, ripping his face off to reveal that he is, in fact, some kind of automated Pringlebot.
Surreal sci-fi combined with slapstick violence? Take my money.
“Pringles! We’re trapped in a Pringles commercial! They must have taken us in our sleep!”
The dialogue is funny, but having Rick tear off the wallpaper and reveal the Pringles logo beneath? That’s funny and on-brand. Genius.
The room fills with a horde of Pringle-munching Mortybots (in what is presumably a reference to the infinite flavour combinations, or something) and we can only assume Rick and Summer die horrible, sour cream flavoured deaths.
Maybe that’s why Season 4 hasn’t restarted yet.
The Big Idea
Pringles’ infinite flavor combinations parallel the infinite universes explored by Rick and Morty.
Apparently. According to senior director of marketing, Gareth Maquire, it was the “infinite universes” from the show that gave them the idea.
We reckon the fact that Rick and Morty are a) hilarious b) hugely popular with the 18-30 demographic c) have form when it comes to food promo and d) hadn’t previously appeared in a Super Bowl spot probably had more to do with it.
But at least the infinite universes thing allows them to invent a world where – credibly – flavour stacking might be an actual thing.
Rick and Morty creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland then set to work on potential directions for the commercial. What they returned with was characteristically meta.
According to Maquire, the intention is that we feel like we’re watching Rick and Morty ft. Pringles, rather than the other way round – as long as the rest of Rick and Morty Season 4 doesn’t turn out to be an advert for Jalapeño Pringles, I’m down with that.
This feels like Pringles finally found the right angle – a suitably mad way to sell us on their mad idea.
Of course, it’s a direction that only works off the backs of its predecessors that didn’t quite land.
By showing willingness to poke fun at themselves and hang a lantern on previous misfires, they’ve made us love them a little bit more.
They placed their trust in seasoned comedy writers and animators (we’re not denying Bill Hader’s genius as a comic actor, but please – someone write that man a joke!), and produced an ad that’s entertaining, engaging, and bound to rope in a whole legion of Rick and Morty fans.
Perhaps that’s the masterstroke of this collaboration – sell chips to animated comedy fans who, well...may frequently find themselves with a distinct craving for carbs of an evening.
VERDICT: 4 stars. Why not five stars?
Firstly – there was definitely room for one final joke at the end as Rick disappears beneath the horde, and with an ad like this you really shouldn’t miss an opportunity to end on your biggest laugh.
But secondly – most importantly – the messaging. Pringles has now conceded that “flavour stacking” is something that’s only a thing in an alternate universe (and maybe even implied you’d have to be a mindless automaton to try it).
I’ll be interested to see if that means they finally move on to a new brand message in 2021.