Why Squarespace Is Taking Calculated Risk And John Malkovich To The Super Bowl

Chief creative officer David Lee talks about how the big game fits into the brand’s overall marketing strategy.

Why Squarespace Is Taking Calculated Risk And John Malkovich To The Super Bowl

This isn’t Squarespace’s first trip to the rodeo. As the last four years will attest, the brand knows a thing or two about creating buzz with Super Bowl advertising that ties directly back to its product, and just happens to be pretty damn funny. Whether an IRL manifestation of the Internet, Jeff Bridges lulling you to sleep, or Key & Peele live big game commentary, each ad and the pre-game hoopla that surrounded it was worthy of the big game spotlight.

In that sense, 2017 is no different. But this time, there’s John Malkovich. The game ad is simply an extension of the campaign launched in January, created with agency JohnXHannes, featuring the award-winning actor’s completely real and serious transition to being a fashion designer, but adds a sizeable smirk to it all. We got a taste of it last week, when we saw Malkovich begin his search for the owner of JohnMalkovich.com, and the Super Bowl spot is another view of that same conversation. Surprising it doesn’t feel like the main event? Maybe. But these days the Super Bowl ad can still function as a high-profile cog in a bigger marketing machine.

Squarespace chief creative officer David Lee says this campaign came out of conversations with Malkovich while the two worked on the “Playing Lynch” collaboration with the David Lynch Foundation last year. That’s when Lee found out Malkovich had a clothing collection he wanted to launch, but didn’t have an e-commerce store or website to put it out to the world. This–much like working with Bridges or Leon Bridges on their own personal sites–presented the brand with another opportunity, not only build an online store that fit Malkovich’s own brand, but to tell his story of shifting from one career to the next. That became the Make Your Next Move campaign.

While the first ad in the “Make Your Next Move” campaign is more serious and earnest in tone, the ads around the Super Bowl give us a look at Funny Malkovich. Lee says that came out of a script they just couldn’t ignore. “There was one script on the table that everyone really liked, but it didn’t quite fit with the over-arching narrative we were going for with (the first ad). But it was so simple and witty, we decided to shoot it anyway,” says Lee. “John took the blueprint of that script and made it his own. On the first take, it was just genius, so we knew we had something fantastic and that’s what became the new spots.”

But Lee also says it wasn’t always the plan for this to be the brand’s Super Bowl ad. “I’d be lying if I said we knew going in that this was going to be a Super Bowl campaign, but part of the beauty and magic is when you see something come together that’s so sharp, simple and genuinely funny, it was the perfect fit for something like the Super Bowl,” he says. “We go into the Super Bowl every year with a clear head and fresh eyes. We want to push ourselves to do different things on the biggest stage. There were a couple differences this year, in that we decided to shift our strategy to a new product we launched last spring, which is Squarespace Domain, to get the word out there that people can use to get their domain and build their website. That’s why this creative is sharp because it so directly promotes that product.”

The brand’s overall strategy for the Super Bowl is to have a specific plan to change the plan at any time. “While we’ll always have a specific strategy, in reality, a lot of it is about calling audibles,” says Lee. “Sometimes these original ideas can shape-shift, and we’ve really learned to be more flexible and agile. You have to be willing to take some big calculated risks and stand behind them. In the last three years we’ve gone into it with some very different ideas. We want to push our platform and tell a simple story.”

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is how even the silliest concept is tied to a very real product. “Everything we do is real. There are no gimmicks,” says Lee. “We actually did pull off a live blogging platform with Key & Peele. We actually made an e-commerce store to sell sleeping tapes by Jeff Bridges. For John Malkovich, he needed an e-commerce store to sell his clothing and we did that. it’s all rooted in real case studies. For us, the amazing thing is, around the Super Bowl ad, John had a real story about someone else owning his domain. So the ad is rooted in truth.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor and writer with Co.Create. He's a former staffer at Advertising Age, Creativity and Canadian Business magazine.

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