Commercial sequels are being taken to the next level. Creating a sequel for a popular ad is not necessarily a new phenomena—brands have been using ongoing characters in ads for years, and even a classic like Life Cereal’s “Mikey likes it!” commercial spawned sequels in the ‘90s. But previously, most sequels have managed to be fairly forgettable, if viewers even realized that they were a “part two” of the original spot at all. Now, in what seems to be entertainment’s age of sequels and remakes, Millennial viewers expect more out of their ads, and commercial follow-ups are being given a boost. We’ve noticed that some brands are finding ways to make the sequels as successful as the original ads, and when looking at the recent stories of marketing sequels, there seem to be some lessons to be learned:
Lesson #1: Continue the story with a purpose.
In the last few years, some winning Super Bowl ads have been given their own sequels, with varying success. Volkswagon’s 2011 “The Force” spot, where a little boy dressed as Darth Vadar thinks he uses the force to turn on a Passat, was hugely popular, earning almost 60 million views on YouTube to date. Hoping to feed off that popularity, the auto brand created “The Dog Strikes Back” in 2012, which wasn’t related to the Darth Vadar kid, but showed Star Wars characters watching the new ad on TV and comparing it to the one from the year before. It’s hard to put the response to this loosely connected sequel spot into numbers, as “The Dog Strikes Back” has been removed from YouTube, but it is a safe guess that it was not the raging success of the original. Merely referencing a previous ad doesn’t recreate a hit sequel.
This year, the big game featured a few commercial sequels as well. Not everyone might have known that Budweiser’s much loved Super Bowl ad “Puppy Love” was actually a sequel to their Super Bowl spot in 2013. But the most obvious (and talked about) sequel of the night was Cheerios’ “Gracie” ad, a follow up to their controversial “Just Checking” ad from 2013. The original spot earned the brand some major attention thanks to the interracial family featured and the conservative backlash the casting choice received. Sticking to their guns (a move which earned them kudos from Millennials during the original wave of outrage) Cheerios followed up on the story of the same family, showing the father telling his adorable offspring that she would be getting a baby brother soon. The ad itself was sweet and well received, with Adweek writing, “It obliquely references the earlier controversy, but by embracing a simpler story that has nothing to do with it, it suggests the controversy was dumb to begin with—that this is just America now, and families like this are just like everyone else, with better things to worry about.” The sequel was Cheerios’ first Superbowl ad, making it feel like they were purposefully continuing the story of the family to make a bigger statement—and it paid off: “Gracie” currently has more views on YouTube than its predecessor.
Lesson #2: Up the stakes and let them in on the backstory.
The tactic of continuing a story with a commercial sequel is also the approach successfully taken in Pepsi Max “Test Drive 2”—with an element of revenge added in for good measure. The original “Test Drive” was an incredibly popular commercial, which currently has over 41 million views, featuring race car driver Jeff Gordon in disguise as a test driver on a car lot. He terrifies an unsuspecting car salesman with a wild ride, before revealing his true identity. After the commercial aired last year, some critics claimed that it was a staged set up—accusations which Pepsi Max used to set the stage to the glorious sequel spot. “Test Drive 2” targets Jalopnik writer Travis Okulski, who wrote an entire article on his conviction that the original ad was a fake. Okulski is picked up in a yellow cab driven by Gordon in disguise and taken on a ride that includes a high-speed chase escaping the police. As with many successful prank videos, the viewers are let in on the set up from the start, watching Gordon being put into makeup and being brought up to date on the backstory and the revenge plot. Within 24 hours of being posted, the ad had earned 4 million views, and today has over 12 million, putting it on pace to catch up with the original.
Lesson #3: If the internet provides a sequel for you, let it.
In late 2013, Volvo produced a viral phenomenon: “The Epic Split feat. Jean Claude Van Damme.” The ad showed Van Damme performing a mind-bending stunt, carrying out his famous split in between two moving trucks. The stunt was real (as the behind the scenes video proved) and the ad was impressive enough to earn a massive 70 million views to date. Last week, it appeared as though the brand had followed up with a sequel spot, and taken it to the next level by showing Van Damme doing the split in space. The video, “Zero Gravity Split” shows Van Damme in a space suit, floating above earth and performing a version of that original stunt in between two satellites. It turns out, this sequel is actually an homage, created by filmmaker Linh Mai and Last Chance Films. So far, the clip as been watched almost 2 million times—not exactly the audience the original ad drew, but not a small number for a parody unrelated to the brand. As we have mentioned before, when it comes to brandjacking, embracing the creativity of imitators and creative contributors is the way to go, and Volvo has earned some free marketing thanks to a fan.