Think back to when you graduated high school. Now imagine someone told that kid that someday they would be approached by their favorite brand not only to star in a commercial, but also to have a hand in creating it. This is how Nick Offerman explains the cornucopia of emotions he felt when Guinness approached him for its St. Patrick’s Day campaign this year.
“I think Guinness would’ve been in my Top 3. It’s the superhero of beers,” Offerman says. “It’s been one of the most charismatic products I’ve been aware of in my lifetime.”
Because the brand has such a deep history, and anyone’s who’s tipped a beer knows about St. Patrick’s Day, Offerman says it presents a different kind of commercial challenge. “It’s a no-brainer that Guinness and St. Patrick’s Day are cause for celebration, so it’s not the same as ‘How do we sell this new toothpaste we came up with?'” he says. “Instead, it’s taking this beefy fellow who looks like he enjoys a pint of the good stuff, and let’s take St. Patrick’s Day that people are generally in favor of, and let’s stretch that out. I have a couple of Parks & Recreation producers that I do this stuff with, so we all get our heads together and say, ‘Okay, how can we make people laugh and celebrate this delicious beer that I’ve always likened to a loaf of bread in a glass?’ It’s substantial. You know you’ve consumed a quantity when you’ve had a pint of Guinness.”
Of course, this isn’t Offerman’s first commercial rodeo. Over the years he’s starred in campaigns for a wide range of brands, from J-B Weld glue to Google Home, Sling TV to Lagavulin whisky. And whether it’s an oddly surreal glue spot or a silent, 45-minute Scotch-inspired yule log video, each is very clearly steeped in the Parks & Rec star’s comedic sensibility. In general, he’s not a big fan of most advertising, but when he’s given the opportunity to do it, he’s got his own set of standards.
“I feel like most of it is pretty distasteful, and my own criteria involves making sure whatever the campaign is—it doesn’t matter what you’re selling—try to make it funny and sincere, and perhaps self-effacing in some way,” he says. “When you fall prey to old-fashioned shilling, holding up that toothpaste and saying, ‘Offerman brand toothpaste is the best!,’ we know by now that it’s fallacious information, so my own opinion is to get rid of that sensibility and just have a funny bit. Do something that people think is funny, and you just happen to be wearing X brand of jeans. Or here’s this silly guy with a mustache building a bar impossibly quickly in another bar, and then he’s pouring a pint of Guinness. So hopefully the bit is funny, and it lends positivity and charisma to the Guinness, and vice versa.”
That criteria has evolved since more than 20 years ago, when it was simply take the money and run. Not long after arriving in Los Angeles in his late 20s, Offerman landed this Longhorn Steakhouse ad.
“That was during the years of survival, and getting to do that spot was a huge windfall,” he says. “The few peanuts I was paid to do it probably allowed me to survive another three to six months in Los Angeles.”
Shot on a cold desert night, the Longhorn gig involved getting chased by dogs while fire hoses created a downpour of fake rain. “I was sopping wet, diving through mud, and I couldn’t have been happier,” says Offerman. “It was eons before I had the wherewithal to have any input on the content like I have with Guinness. I did some TV shows in that era that were terrible, but you don’t think twice because when you get a job you get points towards your medical insurance, living hand to mouth, hoping you can go to the dentist. I’m grateful it was a steakhouse commercial and not something less palatable. Even back then they spotted me as a meat eater.”