So there I was watching the Super Bowl, doing my patriotic duty by rooting against Tom Brady, waiting for The Weeknd to play a 30-second snippet of The Hills—@sashakalra called it “the Pepsi halftime show but every song is about coke”—and taking in the extremely over-the-top ad buys, when what do I see but a 30-second spot for a little alternative milk company called Oatly.
At first, joy. But then, confusion. What hath mine eyes just seen?
For those who missed it, the commercial features Oatly CEO Toni Petersson sitting in a field with a keyboard singing a jaunty synth tune about oat milk, with lines like “it’s milk but made for humans” and “wow, no cow.” It's a very different ad from, say, a reunited Wayne and Garth shilling for Uber Eats, or Jeep letting us know that national reconsiliation is possible through the purchase of their dumb cars. Oatly's ad landed totally different. It's a little weird. You can't take your eyes off it.
The ad has made pretty much every Super Bowl commercial list, both best- and worst-of as well as the highly-coveted Slate “What the Hell Was That?” Award. But as… intriguing as the ad was, the backstory is just as out there. As reported by Ad Age, the commercial itself isn’t even new. What appeared in the second quarter of the Super Bowl is a 30-second version of a one-minute ad that originally aired in Sweden in 2014. Before it was banned, that is. After facing a lawsuit from Swedish Big Dairy, the ad was pulled, where it languished on Oatly Youtube until last night.
As atypical as it was, Oatly was well aware of the history of Super Bowl commercials and where their ad fit in—or didn’t—within it.
“It’s definitely not your typical Super Bowl commercial with the celebrity or over production,” says John Schoolcraft, Oatly’s chief creative officer… “You can look at it and say ‘that might be the stupidest use of ad space on the Super Bowl ever.’”
And perhaps seven years in the making, Oatly was ready for the collective “huh?” As soon as the ad ran, the brand posted an Instagram giving away free t-shirts with a stylized black-and-white illustration of the commercial with text reading, “I totally hated that Oatly commercial.” The shirt has already sold out and is destined to become a collector’s item of coffee ephemera.
From a purely marketing perspective, the commercial worked; everyone is talking about it. If you've followed their brand for years, it makes sense, and fits within Oatly's wider approach to language-driven statements and phrases. If this was the first you ever heard of Oatly, well, I'm not sure what you think, but I bet you felt something watching it. And on advertising's biggest stage? That's a touchdown.