“It’s weird, I’m trying to picture this whole thing,” says a character named ‘Neighborhood Guy’ in the opening minutes of Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical. “What kind of people buy tickets to watch a Skittles Commercial?”
The cast members turn pointedly towards the audience. It’s at this moment, after consuming weeks of teasers and press junkets, that ticket holders realize Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical is about nothing more than the staging of Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical.
They also realize they are simultaneously in on the joke, and the butt of it, too.
Skittles announced it would be foregoing a traditional Super Bowl commercial to stage a one-off, 30-minute Broadway musical in January.
The Mars-owned brand teased the casting of its leading man — Michael C Hall — before unveiling a behind-the-scenes recording of the show’s second musical number, ‘Advertising Ruins Everything’, a week before the game. The clip gave a rainbow taste of the satire to come.
Tickets went on sale for the one-off New York performance with prices ranging from $30 to $205. The ostensibly obscene charge was, however, mitigated by assurances proceeds would go to towards the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
On opening day, the pre-theater experience created by Skittles and DDB Worldwide is slick and po-faced. A vendor selling branded T-shirts for $10 generates a fair amount of business and audience members willingly dish out more dollars for bags of the multicolored candy. The line for collection snakes down 43rd St, while grifters and fans of either the brand or Hall (likely the latter) look to hustle tickets from the lucky 1,495 who are getting in.
The play’s interior setting — a dusty bodega — is open for the audience to explore before the curtain lifts. When it does, Broadway clichés are immediately satirized: expositional character introductions, unnecessary musical stings, sudden breaks into song.
Hall’s arrival in a cat costume jumpstarts the narrative: playing himself, the Dexter actor explains he had been cast in a Skittles Commercial, which he morosely describes as “more of a theatrical piece.” The supporting actors struggle to comprehend the concept; “Why doesn’t Skittles just dig a really deep hole and have a celebrity stand in that for a couple days?” asks Neighborhood Guy.
Hall agonizes over the musical’s ability to make or break his career in the first number, ‘This Might Have Been a Bad Idea,’ before the production completely descends into full-blown meta madness.
The fourth wall is smashed when he’s heckled by actors planted in the audience in a scene that rather impressively dips into existential themes of lived and perceived reality. And Hall’s prima donna tantrum and walk-off causes a number of audience members to head to the exit, genuinely believing the show to be over.
A particularly meta scene set outside the very theater the audience is currently sat in climaxes into riotous chaos. It ultimately ends in the death of Hall (well, Hall’s character), the specter of the late Winston Churchill, and the realization from the cast that ‘This Definitely Was a Bad Idea.’
And then, in a strange twist of incomprehensible corporate redemption, the characters change their minds. Putting on a Broadway musical in lieu of a Super Bowl spot is a good idea, because the theater has sold 587 packs of Skittles during the show! It’s “an almost imperceptible rise in sales!”
The audience laughs at the bathos, yet at this point the joke is really on every single advertiser spending Broadway-production levels of cash on Super Bowl Sunday: the cluttered nature of the commercial game means many are unlikely to measure even “an almost imperceptible” rise in sales off the back of their $5m 30-second spot.
As for Skittles? Well, the audience proudly cheers when asked, “What kind of people buy tickets to watch a Skittles Commercial?” and begins uploading their experience to social media the minute the ‘Taste the Rainbow’ curtain comes down.
In this production, they are cast as the ultimate fools — but they know it. And by giving them some sort of bizarre form of agency in the advertiser-consumer nexus, Skittles may just have won the Super Bowl.