Was "MacGruber" a "Saturday Night Live" sketch or Pepsi commercial?
Depending on when you were watching television over the weekend,
it was hard to tell.
On Saturday night's "SNL," the recurring bit starring cast
member Will Forte aired three times during the show, each time with
comical over-the-top promotion for Pepsi.
Then on Sunday night, one of the same "MacGruber" sketches -
in which Forte plays a parody of the `80s action series
"MacGyver" - aired during NBC's broadcast of the Super Bowl as a
As it turns out, all were paid commercials by Pepsi, made in
collaboration with producer Lorne Michaels' "Saturday Night
Live." The segments weren't product placement, but commercials
paid for by Pepsi and produced by "SNL." Though they appeared to
be sketches on "SNL," they ran during allotted commercial breaks.
NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman said Pepsi paid full
freight for the spots - which sold for about $3 million per
30-second spot during the Super Bowl.
"They really made it very funny and obvious, so I don't think
there was any confusion," said Silverman. "Everything is ongoing
experimentation, but the reality is we need to evolve and do more
and more things."
Added Silverman: "It's not just an ad for Pepsi, it's an ad for
`Saturday Night Live."'
Branding expert Peter Arnell was in charge of PepsiCo's Super
Bowl campaign, which also included a 3-D commercial for its SoBe
"The creative space is `SNL's' and they were commercials we
would have bought, so the economics were as normal as it ever
was," said Arnell. "It's the un-advertising advertising."
The first "MacGruber" sketch/commercial that ran during
"SNL" came amid other commercials - after a movie trailer for
"The Pink Panther 2," which is what host Steve Martin was (what
PepsiCo American Beverages chief Massimo d'Amore, who watched
the game from a luxury box with NBC and Michaels, declined to say
how much the company paid the network for the spots. An estimated
95.4 million people watched the Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl,
making it second only to last year's game as the most popular ever,
according to Nielsen Media Research.
"We have been working together all along in a true
partnership," said d'Amore. "This is definitely not a one-off.
It's a very determined step to connect with the consumers of today
in a new contemporary way."
The ads include all the same usual characteristics that the
sketch series normally does: its cheesy opening theme song, a
frightened sidekick (played by fellow cast member Kristen Wiig) and
MacGruber's inevitable distraction (in this case, a Pepsi). The
real MacGyver - Richard Dean Anderson - also made a cameo.
That a marquee "SNL" sketch would be sold to a marketer might
rub some loyal viewers the wrong way. Fans, after all, tune in for
comedy, not for well-dressed commercials.
Silverman says the viewer only wins, since the Pepsi sketches
replaced regular commercials. (He also noted that "SNL" talent
was paid for the work outside of their normal salaries.)
"It wasn't inside the show," said Silverman. "Lorne really
protected the show. I think the fans of `Saturday Night Live' got
to see a `MacGruber' that they wouldn't have otherwise seen."
Michaels wasn't available to comment Monday.
"What we're doing is selling entertainment vehicles and
marketing platforms," said Silverman, who has looked for other
revenue streams for NBC as network TV ratings have slid. "This is
where programming is going."