NFL, Keegan-Michael Key Skewer the 'Scripted' Meme '23 Kickoff

Remember, 'You Can't Make This Stuff Up'

Congratulations, suspicious interwebs, you sussed it out. The NFL really does work from scripts. All the time. To plot every dramatic twist and turn.

And it does so ... for its commercials. But not on the field of play. D'uh!

In fresh ads from 72andSunny, the league pokes fun at conspiracy theories about scripted games. Director Aaron Stoller imbues the spots with a sassy satirical vibe, mirroring his beloved "Heisman House" blitz for Nissan. 

FADE IN: A Hollywood-style story conference, with Keegan-Michael Key as the director, and NFL elites cast as "actors." They're pitching scenarios for the league's 104th year.

"Okay, we need something juicy for mid-season," Key says.

Chicago Bear Justin Fields suggests banning sacks. His fellow QB, Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, whoops it up in agreement. Shirtless Kirk steals the scene with his energy and bling.

NFL | The Last Page

After more banter, the commercial promises a boffo finish for the Super Bowl. Everyone oohs, aahs and applauds as they scan the script's last page.

"Just think of the memes!" Key quips.

CUE TAGLINE: "You Can't Make This Stuff Up."

NFL | The Table Read

The in-jokes fly thoughout, with Patrick Mahomes, D.K. Metcalf, Dexter Lawrence, Ja'Marr Chase, Jalen Ramsey, Travis Kelce and Jason Kelce getting in on the fun. (The Kelces' mom Donna makes a cute cameo).

"This year, it felt appropriate to let loose and have fun. Also, we wanted to highlight the entertainment value of NFL football," 72andSunny ECD Zach Hilder tells Muse. "The NFL is so much bigger than players and plays. The storylines are epic. The plot twists are sometimes almost unbelievable. We tried to remind fans of that without being heavy-handed. Plus, we wanted to see Justin Fields pitch the idea of swapping his legs for wheels. I mean, who doesn't want to see that?"

This ranks as NBA-level cultural awareness, with high entertainment value. It's a pointed clap-back at doofus detractors, delivered with good humor and just enough goofiness to score.

Even better, it should appeal to folks who aren't up on the latest viral shenanigans. (Bare-chested, bejeweled Kirk transcends all context!)

Below, Hilder, agency co-founder Glenn Cole, NFL CMO Tim Ellis and league SVP, global brand Marissa Solis discuss the creative approach.

MUSE: Why do this style of humor and lean into the headlines?

Tim Ellis, NFL: No one is expecting this. It's taking the opportunity to have some fun with a popular meme and myth out there that the season is fixed. And our fans aren't accustomed to the NFL making fun of itself. Self-effacing wouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind when you think NFL. So, we kick off our season by stating, "You're right, it’s all made up." We think fans are going to eat it up, and hopefully it will remind them why they love this game so much. It will encourage deeper engagement and that sense of community.

Glenn Cole, 72andSunny: We first discussed the idea of a "Scripted" campaign back in February. NFL fan culture and meme culture share a fun obsession with scripted storyline conspiracies. Even the athletes love to play with it. So when the new season approached, we leaned into it. We knew we had the right idea when we pitched it to the players. D.K. signed on before he even saw the script. Tim pitched Mahomes, the Kelces, and Kirk Cousins, who fearlessly leaned into it. Just look at Kirk. Fearless! 

So, hardcore fans will be delighted and surprised? 

Tim Ellis, NFL: Understanding what our fans want and even need to hear from us is crucial. So, it's about football, but it's also about cultural leadership. And sometimes it's simply about escape and tapping into the excitement and anticipation of the return of the season. Creatively, we also look to tap into emerging artforms and storytelling. And yes, even memes and urban myths. This is critical in order to stay relevant and retain that edge.

Beyond debunking the meme, what the main goal?

Tim Ellis, NFL: Football is one of those games where literally anything can happen in a season. Your team may have been at the bottom of their division last year, and suddenly you find yourself in contention for the Super Bowl. It's also true that the quality, competitiveness and intensity of the matchups and rivalries over the last few seasons have been insane. So, we knew that we had an incredible level of momentum and pent-up excitement going into the 104th season.

The players-as-actors certainly seem in character.

Tim Ellis, NFL: What I love in this campaign is how our players are driving the humor. When I came to the league five years ago, we started the helmets-off strategy, which was designed to help fans get to know our players better as people and not just as world-class athletes. It makes them more relatable and encourages deeper engagement. And when you see this campaign, you can't help but be impressed with the quality of performance. The acting is really incredible. The guys are hilarious. And of course, Keegan-Michael Key is brilliant. The players really responded well to Keegan, and I think he helped them just bring it. 

Must've been fun on set. 

Marissa Solis, NFL: It was awesome to see the players really getting into it. I remember when Dexter Lawrence saw the script and had to do his "Sexy Dexy" [dance]. He was nervous at first. He wanted it to be perfect. Then, he did it a couple of times and really started enjoying it and ad-libbing fun moves.  We were able to capture all of the players and Keegan's natural reactions as we were shooting because so much of it was ad-libbed. That is what made is so great. There was a lot of laughter on the set!

Zach Hilder, 72andSunny: One of my favorite moments was filming Donna Kelce. She’s so authentic. So relatable. So funny. She might actually have a thing for Jimmy Garoppolo. I don't know. She has a great poker face.

You did have a script, right?

Tim Ellis, NFL: We had an approved script, but everyone was having so much fun that new ideas and things were just organically coming together. It was almost like improv. One person would start something and everyone would just jump in and make it better. 

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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