Amazon’s Super Bowl ad has celebrities Rebel Wilson, Cardi B, Sir Anthony Hopkins and others fill in for Alexa. Here’s a preview of the ad.
Amazon will spend an estimated $15 million to buy 90 seconds of the nation’s attention during the fourth quarter of this Sunday’s Super Bowl for a star-studded advertisement touting its voice computing technology, Alexa.
In a pre-release version of the commercial that had already garnered more than 20 million views by Friday afternoon, Alexa, a voice-controlled digital assistant that the company has styled as a “her,” loses its voice and is unable to fulfill user requests.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos acts in the spot, greeting this news with urgency and concern — “How is that even possible?” he asks. But he stays calm as an employee describes Amazon’s backup plan. One can only imagine the alarm bells that would be ringing in Day One if Alexa actually suffered this kind of outage.
Bezos, in addition to being the world’s richest person, has a second career as an actor, most recently appearing in an installment of his beloved Star Trek franchise. (The wake-word that activates Alexa can also be changed to “computer,” an homage to the voice-controlled computers in the show and movies.) Bezos’ mini bio on Amazon-owned IMDb reads: “He is an actor, known for Star Trek: Beyond (2016), The Virtual Revolution(2010) and Tooth Fairy (2004).”
The spot features actors with significantly more experience on stage and screen, including Sir Anthony Hopkins. (Bezos is known to be a fan of the book “The Remains of the Day,” the 1993 film adaptation of which starred Hopkins.)
Other celebrities — including TV chef Gordon Ramsey, rapper and singer Cardi B (whose 2017 hit “Bodak Yellow” is also featured), and Australian actress and writer Rebel Wilson — also fill in for the stricken Alexa in the commercial. Another 30-second spot playing on the same concept features comedian-actors J.B. Smoove and Leslie Jones. The celebrities don headsets with the signature blue-green circle that glows when Alexa is listening to provide… non-standard answers to user requests. See for yourself:
The ad, produced by London-based ad agency Lucky Generals, highlights a range of Amazon’s microphone-equipped devices that run Alexa, and the variety of different things you can ask “her” to do. It suggests that Alexa, for all “her” miscues and foibles in real-life operation, maybe isn’t so bad after all. At least she’s not cursing at you for not knowing how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.
AdWeek predicts the Alexa Super Bowl ad is “destined to be one of Sunday’s favorites.”
Perhaps inadvertently, the ad also evokes some of the creepier aspects of the smart-microphone technology that has proliferated in recent years.
Hopkins, in a mode reminiscent of his famous role as serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector from the Silence of the Lambs movies, answers a woman’s request to “Call Brandon.”
“I’m afraid Brandon is a little tied up,” Hopkins intones as the spot cuts to him feeding a peacock. “But do let me know if there’s anything I can help you with… Jessica.”
Jessica looks appropriately horrified.
Actors in the commercial say “Alexa” – the default wake word for the technology – at least 10 times. A survey taken late last year by NPR and Edison Research estimated that 16 percent of U.S. adults own a smart speaker. Amazon said last October it had sold “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices,” and in late December said it had sold “tens of millions” during the holidays.
With millions of people expected to tune in to the game, can we expect them all to respond at once to the commercial?
Amazon says no. A company spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that the commercial is altered to minimize the mass-triggering of Echo devices across the country. She wouldn’t say how.
But Bloomberg’s Brad Stone, author of a definitive book on Amazon, reports that Amazon filed patents in 2014 describing techniques to avoid triggering Alexa “as part of a broadcast watched by a large population (such as during a popular sporting event).” One involves sending snippets of the commercial to the devices so they can distinguish between it and spoken commands. Another suggests that an inaudible signal could be broadcast along with the commercial itself that would instruct the devices to ignore the wake word, Stone reports.
At 90 seconds, the Alexa commercial is a long but not unprecedented Super Bowl ad buy, says Sean Muller, founder and CEO of Seattle-based iSpot.tv, which measures the effectiveness of television advertisements as well as their online reach.
Amazon is already getting its money’s worth. Some 42 brands have released teasers or full-length pre-release versions of their Super Bowl-related advertising, Muller says. As of Friday afternoon, the “Alexa Loses Her Voice” spot ranked No. 4 for digital buzz, which iSpot.tv measures by tracking social media mentions, Internet searches and online views. He said the commercial had been viewed online some 20 million times and had garnered 10 million television impressions through preview coverage of the Super Bowl (which, by the way, is a football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, airing Sunday on NBC at 3:30 p.m.).
The longer ad is a departure from the company’s Alexa advertising strategy of late, which has consisted of 10-second “moments” strung together in groups of three, Muller notes. It ran these short spots during the Super Bowl last year. In 2016, the company also turned to celebrities including Alec Baldwin and Missy Elliott for a 60-second Alexa promo.
“I have this feeling they’re going for the 90-second spot to do something unexpected,” Muller says. His bold though somewhat unlikely prediction: “I would not be surprised if Amazon announces their HQ2 via Alexa during the Super Bowl.”
You heard it here first, Alexa.