Olivia Munn


Proactiv might have been even happier than the Patriots that the Super Bowl went into overtime.

The acne fighter purchased a cut-rate 30-second advertising slot contingent upon an extra 15 minutes being put on the clock, an occurrence that had never happened before in the 50 Super Bowls prior to the game Sunday. Once it almost unbelievably did occur, the commercial that occupied the slot starred actress Olivia Munn as a skin-care soothsayer giving advice to a young male with a pimple-flecked face.

“I am not a huge football fan, and I was watching not for the Patriots or the Falcons to win, but for a tie, which was a crazy long shot. When it got to the end of the second half, and it was tied, it was one of the most exciting moments in my career,” said Jay Sung, president, North America of The Proactiv Co., a joint venture between Guthy-Renker and Nestlé Skin Health S.A. “My whole family was cheering and freaking out.”

The freak-out was justified: Proactiv’s web traffic leapt more than 100 percent following the commercial’s airing. And Sung believes the brand could continue to see a lift in the near future from getting in front of some 111 million people who watched the Super Bowl on Fox Television.

“In a typical week, Proactiv airs about 5,000 ads. It’s not that we are short of exposure, but, a lot of those ads, since they are on national cable, can be a little bit like wallpaper in a sense. So, we are hoping that, having the high-profile placement of the Super Bowl, we get amplification across all of those other ads,” said Sung. “We are looking forward to seeing the sales results this week.”

The Super Bowl ad, which was developed with Lieberman Productions, a marketing and direct-response production company Guthy-Renker bought in 2007, is markedly different from most of the ads Proactiv has put out. It’s meant to be funny, a quality the brand has typically avoided because joking about as serious a topic as acne or making fun of acne sufferers seemed callous. (The young male in the commercial drops his towel by mistake, and Munn gazes up to prevent an unwanted visual.)

“Our internal creative team has figured out how to use humor in a lighthearted way without putting acne in the center of the humor. That’s why this ad is such a big departure for us. We haven’t been using humor,” said Sung. “Millennials really need to be entertained, and for us to get across to them, we had to use humor.”

As the Super Bowl ad indicates, Proactiv isn’t as dependent as it was in the past on traditional direct-response television pitches with all of their characteristic components, notably free gifts, special prices, before-and-after images, and calls-to-action with contact information informing customers where they can get the products. Instead, the brand is increasingly moving toward what Sung described as spots that tell stories and dial down the volume on selling. He detailed the brand is current running about 12 unique ads, and they’re a mixture of traditional direct-response formatted ads and what he dubbed “storyline” ads.

A new ad Proactiv is unveiling soon titled “We Believe” is illustrative of just how much the brand’s promotional strategies have changed. It focuses on Proactiv’s 22-year history of clearing up acne. “It’s a narrative we haven’t had before,” said Sung. “People think about us as a late-night brand, and we are so much more if you think about our mission and the people we have helped.”

Proactiv’s annual advertising budget is remaining relatively flat from last year. Sung declined to discuss that budget, but it has been estimated at about $100 million. Roughly one-third of Proactiv’s advertising spend is expected to go toward digital platforms this year, up from 25 percent last year.

“We’ve been inching our digital footprint upward, and we’ve been very aggressive on Instagram and Facebook,” said Sung. “A few years ago, there was a big debate about TV versus digital, but I don’t think that’s the right way to frame the question. It is really about how digital can augment television.”

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