Jason Alexander has an intriguing assignment this Sunday: He’s got 60 seconds to convince Super Bowl audiences they need a new kind of Tide detergent — and he will have to complete the bulk of his assignment without saying a word.
Alexander, the actor known for his roles in “Seinfeld,” “Pretty Woman” and on Broadway, stands at the center of a Super Bowl spot for Tide. A young protagonist wears a “Jason Alexander hoodie” that gets used in the completion of some very messy tasks. The expression of Alexander’s printed face on the garment changes according to the schmutz with which it comes in contact, and viewers get a sense of why they might need a new Tide product, “Tide Hygienic Clean.”
The actor has been in this situation before. In 1995, he did a Super Bowl ad for Frito-Lay’s Rold Gold pretzels that ended with a shot that made it look as if Alexander had parachuted into the stadium where the game was being played. “The effects were so good my mother called me to ask if I had just parachuted into the stadium,” Alexander recalls in an interview. “I said, ‘You realize you’re talking to me at home.’”
The Tide spot — likely to be seen by tens of millions of people on Sunday — marks Alexander’s latest venture into the antics of Madison Avenue (and, he says, is the first time he’s done some acting since the coronavirus pandemic hit). As a teenager, he did work for Hershey’s Kisses. And he has helped gain notice for KFC, Chrysler, and, in an elaborate song-and-dance number, McDonald’s now-scuttled McDLT sandwich. You can still find it on YouTube — the commercial, not the burger. “The ad has outlived the product it was for,” Alexander quips.
Commercials have helped him maintain a career as an actor. “I had begun to work in theater in New York, on Broadway, off Broadway, and I knew from friends who had already done it that the way you sort of get a quality of living when you are a theater actor is if you’re lucky enough to do commercials,” he says. “Commercials were always something that I went after aggressively as a young actor. When I become more of a celebrity, all of a sudden, the kind of commercials that came my way, they were bigger, sort of more ambitious, and as they got more ambitious, they became more interesting.”
This one certainly had its moments. In a photo session that lasted four or five hours, Alexander had to show looks of horror, disgust, surprise and more — all without any vocal accompaniment, or motion. The best and most effective ones show up on the hoodie. “The tricky part was you can do a whole bunch of attitudes and facial expressions if you can move your head, but for this, I had to be flush on,” Alexander says. “When you can’t move your head it’s really about the facial muscles.”
He estimates the production team took something like 1500 different pictures of his face as a director gave him instructions via a Zoom connection. Instructions included “You’re getting horrified” or “Something fell on your bottom lip.” It will all pay off when people see the ad.
Alexander believes viewers will get the message. Thanks to his participation, he has become more sensitive to the travails of ordinary pieces of clothing. He recently had to visit a drug store to pick up something and on the way noticed a man wiping a runny nose with a shirt sleeve — multiple times. “OK, he will need Tide Hygienic Clean or a flame to burn that shirt,” Alexander thought.