Inside Michael C. Hall's Anti-Advertising Skittles Super Bowl Commercial on Broadway
Instead of advertising on TV, Skittles' Super Bowl commercial was a satire of Skittles and advertising performed as a one-off Broadway show. It still sold Skittles. Hard.
The chorus sang that the show was “boring and unclear.” Winston Churchill lectured us. Amelia Earhart appeared. The very real Michael C. Hall wondered what the hell he was doing there playing the actor Michael C. Hall, then died.
All for Skittles and the Super Bowl.
Whatever happens tonight, with the cavalcade of celebrities, social-issue prodding, shocks, controversy, and creative invention that characterizes Super Bowl advertising, Skittles will stand apart.
On Sunday afternoon at the Town Hall on Broadway in New York City, Dexter and Six Feet Under star Hall led the cast of Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical, directed by Sarah Benson.
This advertisement-as-show was showing allegedly for one performance only (although it was being filmed by a camera team apparently as confused as many of us in the audience), and it had a near seven-hour march on its competitors.
Just what is going on up there, one man, “Mitch,” demanded from the front row. And then other people started standing up scattered throughout the audience asking the character Michael C. Hall played by Michael C. Hall other questions, including about free will and the need to finance fast trains.
In the balcony, someone shouted that he couldn’t hear or see anything properly. All were actors, of course, and very funny, and they were all speaking, albeit parodically, for our own puzzlement.
It was around 40 minutes of gentle poking of the pliability of soft brains, while still selling to those soft brains. It wanted to have its Skittles, and eat them. This was an anti-marketing parody, which itself was an exercise in modern, self-referential marketing.
It was only viewable, we were told, by those sitting in the audience, and it was the only Super Bowl advertisement that was a Broadway show.
The book was written by Will Eno and Nathaniel Lawlor, and the music was by Drew Gasparini. If you’ve seen Hall in Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing), you will not have been surprised by what unfolded, which was a Skittles advertisement that masqueraded as an interrogation of advertising, as well as a deconstruction of what was happening on stage, and the point of life and existence itself. Basically, Will Eno casual daywear.
The parody and satire was relentless, and occasionally very funny, but more notable was the regular, completely unironic elicitations to eat the “colorful candies” themselves.
As much as Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical was a deconstruction of advertising, of Skittles, of the mechanics of being sold something, and the absurdity of putting this 35-minute exercise on Broadway, it was also very basically about selling candy.
In the goodie bag given to journalists, there was a vinyl LP of the three songs in the show, ‘This Might Have Been a Bad Idea,’ ‘Advertising Ruins Everything,’ and ‘This Definitely Was a Bad Idea.’ The fourth tracks was ‘Four Minutes of Michael C. Hall Eating Skittles.’ There were also two packets of Skittles.
But note that this was an LP; a mostly defunct way of listening to music and yet another subversion by the producers.
There was not much story or song, and what there was deliberately half-heartedly written. In a store, itself in commercial danger, a longtime customer claimed to be the son of the owner (he wasn’t). Customers appeared, raving about Skittles.
Then in came Hall, dressed in a mangy cat costume, singing that surely taking on this role could spell the end of his career. Then came the interjections from the planted actors in the audience, who mostly laughed and applauded the absurdity of the show.
Hall is an excellent performer, and here he was anti-performing, taking swipes at himself, acting, advertising, the selling of personality and product. He looked as pained as an actor called Michael C. Hall caught up in a Skittles commercial on a Broadway stage might. But just like the advertisements on TV tonight, the fact that the real Michael C. Hall was talking part in the exercise showed the corporate power of Skittles.
There was even a final count of the number of Skittles packs sold at the afternoon performance—nearly 600, we were told, less than half the number of available seats in Town Hall—and for this Michael C. Hall was thanked for his services, which had not been in cheapening and fatal vain.
600 packets may not sound a lot compared to the millions of eyeballs on the Super Bowl advertisements tonight, but Skittles was happy with it, we were told. Sweatshirts and (I think) bags of candy were thrown into the audience. The anti-advertisement advertisement was clear: the performers were rubes, we were rubes, advertising had made rubes of us all, and all this was the ultimate underline of tonight’s epic commercial rodeo.
But you know what: Skittles were OK. The sell was ironic, it came with an eyeroll, a wink, a nudge, a sigh. But it was still a sell. The lead producer listed in the program was Skittles/Mars Wrigley Confectionery.
If the skewed intentions of the musical were not clear, the last item in the goodie bag was a sweatshirt. One the front it read, “Advertising Ruins Everything,” which is also now a Skittles hashtag. On the back there was a bag of Skittles.
For all its witty and pointed self-lacerations, the Skittles Commercial on Broadway was as focused on the bottom line as tonight’s more blatant commercials.