Downy Super Bowl Commercial: Mean Joe Greene's Return Boosts Underdog Ad

Thad NovakCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2012

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 5:  Joe Greene and owner Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers pose on the field during the AFC-NFC Pro Football Hall of Fame Game against the New Orleans Saints at Fawcett Stadium August 5, 2007 in Canton, Ohio.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The world of Super Bowl advertising isn’t all that different from football-broadcast ads the rest of the year: beer, cars and movies are going to be the dominant players, year in and year out. One product that audiences definitely wouldn’t expect to see splurge on a blockbuster ad is the ever-so-masculine fabric softener.

Nevertheless, Downy has thrown its hat into the Super Bowl commercial ring, and the company has brought along some serious football cred in the form of Super Bowl legend Mean Joe Greene. The ex-Steeler reprises his role from the legendary Coke commercial way back in 1980, with Amy Sedaris replacing the starry-eyed little boy.

Like most of this year’s prominent ads, the commercial has been pre-released on YouTube and can be found here.

Huge swaths of fans watching tomorrow’s game will have no clue who Greene was, or (like this writer) will simply be too young to have seen the Pittsburgh icon earn his bellicose nickname. Still, the reputation of the original ad is strong enough to make this parody play, and (just like before) Greene’s self-awareness in riffing on his own intimidating persona is a welcome sight in a pro athlete.

The obvious criticism here is the spot’s utter lack of originality, but callbacks are a virtual requirement of Super Bowl ads these days. Between Darth Vader last year (Volkswagen) and Ferris Bueller this year (Honda), nostalgia has become almost as big a selling tactic as sex for the year’s biggest advertising showcase.

Although it’s a bit of a shame to see a magnificent player like Greene doing commercials at this point in his post-career life, he’s aged well and is just as likely to be participating for the fun of it as for the money involved. As for Downy, the spot is a coup that will make them one of the biggest winners of the broadcast for a product that wouldn’t make a dent under any normal circumstances.