Eli Manning on making ads and mastering comedy: ‘don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself’
The two-time Super Bowl winner opens up about why philanthropy matters to him, how he’s mastered on-screen comedy and how he plans to chase both personal and professional ambitions in the coming year.
Eli Manning is eating up partnership opportunities with brands whose products and mission resonate with him / Quaker Oats
Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been busy since he announced his retirement in early 2020.
He’s stayed involved in the franchise through various business operations and last year joined ESPN as an NFL analyst. He presents Monday Night Football with brother Peyton Manning and also hosts a program called Eli’s Places in which he visits famed college football programs. The latter has just been renewed for its second season.
On the side, the younger Manning is involved in a wide swath of charitable and commercial efforts. He joined his brother in on-the-ground relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Two years later, the NFL star launched a five-year campaign to raise $2.5m to build ‘The Eli Manning Children’s Clinics’ branch at the Blair E Batson Hospital for Children in Mississippi. He’s supported and been involved in a range of other philanthropic efforts, including the Alliance for Lupus Research, All Stars Helping Kids and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
He’s also become a friendly (and ubiquitous) face in adland. He and his brother appeared side-by-side in a playful co-branded PepsiCo-Frito-Lay ad ahead of Super Bowl LVI in January – a year after he fronted a memorable Frank’s Red Hot ad that poked fun at his decision to retire from football.
Now, the NFL star is working with Quaker Oats. In partnership with the pantry staple, Manning is unveiling the Quaker Hunger Clock alongside not-for-profit organization Feeding America. The clock counts down to Super Bowl LVII, slated for Sunday February 12 2023, by which time Quaker Oats aims to raise $500,000 for Feeding America to battle hunger in the US. The oats brand has promised to match every contribution up to a total of $250,000 for the initiative.
Here, the Drum catches up with Eli Manning to learn how his values inform his partnership and branding decisions, and what’s next for the two-time Super Bowl winner.
Why does this partnership with Quaker make sense for you personally?
For the last 15 years, pretty much, I’ve had oatmeal every morning. I believe in the product and I use the product. It’s in the pantry at my house. So it made sense to get involved.
Secondly, like Quaker, I believe that the circumstances of life should never be a barrier to good nutrition. The fact that there is a hunger problem in the US is alarming and disconcerting.
The goal [of the Quaker Hunger Clock program] is to raise $500,000, which equates to roughly five million meals. I’m excited about this initiative and Quaker is doing a great thing teaming up with Feeding America, which is a great charity. It’s a win-win situation.
If people are going through tough times dealing with hunger, we’re trying to make sure they can still get healthy meals and eat well and get what they need as they go through this tough stretch.
Was this process collaborative?
Personally, you can have some say in what was going on in the ad, but the idea was Quaker’s idea – coming up with [the spot’s creative concept of] having a trainer kind of coach me through the day, doing activities and making sure I’m having my breakfast and eating my oatmeal every morning. I enjoyed that process. I thought the creative behind it was really good. I had a really fun time filming the commercial.
Historically, you’ve appeared in a lot of ads with messages rooted in humor. Earlier this month, you and your brother were the subject of a viral SNL skit. It seems that comedy has often played a role in your commercial successes. What’s the secret to good comedy in advertising?
Well, the secret to good humor is you have to be yourself. You have to bring your own humor to the table and understand what you’re doing.
Also, the idea for me was to always take your job very seriously. Whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re working for – take it very seriously, but never take yourself too seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself, be able to make fun of yourself and enjoy that, and just try to go in there with an open mind. Be comfortable being uncomfortable – maybe do something you’re not used to doing. That’s kind of my mindset.
It’s grown over the years. Early on, if I wasn’t very good at that, [it was like,] ‘Hey, I’m a football player.’ That’s all I knew. But over time and doing a few more [ads] – and doing some with my brothers and with my family – helps you relax a little bit more, do a little bit more improv and change things up. So you all of a sudden kind of earn the right to change some things up or try something new or put yourself out there and see if it works. And sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
You mentioned starring in ads alongside your brother Peyton. Some of those spots have been really memorable. What is that like? Are there ever any challenges of working alongside family?
No; it’s always fun. It’s something I always look forward to, because Peyton lives in Denver and I live in New Jersey. While we were playing, we didn’t get the normal Thanksgivings and Christmases and holidays to get together. So this was something that brought us together.
If we’re doing an endorsement together or doing a commercial together, we can meet in a common spot, get to have dinner the night before, get to hang out and get to talk to each other during the breaks of the commercial. It’s always brought us together, and we enjoy being around each other. That’s been fun. Whenever we’re doing a project together – whether we meet beforehand to get a game plan, get to see each other the night before [filming] or on Mondays [for Monday Night Football] get to be on a Zoom with each other – those are all exciting things that we look forward to.
What’s next for you, whether personally or professionally, in 2023?
For the most part, I’ll be just doing what I’ve been doing this last year – having fun staying involved with football and doing Monday Night Football with my brother, staying involved with the Giants and watching them playing well. [Plus, working on] my charitable initiatives that I’ve been a part of for a number of years ... and trying to raise kids and be a good father and coach them up in sports.
It’s a lot of things – I’m just staying busy, staying active and trying to pick the different projects that truly make me happy and that I enjoy doing. I’m surrounding myself with good people and good companies and good products – and that’s important to me.