Sabrina Sanchez
Feb 2, 2023

Inside the making of Rakuten’s Super Bowl ad

The shopping and rewards platform’s creative team shares how it worked entirely in-house to conceive, create and produce the Clueless-inspired spot.

Inside the making of Rakuten’s Super Bowl ad

Missing the Super Bowl? As if! 

Rakuten decided that it would return to the Super Bowl immediately after last year’s game, when it made its debut as an advertiser with a spot starring Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham. The buy was part of a global effort from the Japan-based company to “cement Rakuten as a household name in the U.S.” as it grows its global presence, according to a press release.

This year, Rakuten returns to the game with a spot starring Alicia Silverstone, who will make a comeback as her iconic Clueless character Cher Horowitz. The 30-second ad, which was created entirely by an in-house team, shows Cher doing what she does best — shopping — except now she’s shopping smarter using Rakuten to save money.

Rakuten secured the IP for the 90s-era classic after approaching Paramount for rights in the summer of 2022, (a spokesperson declined to share how much it spent). In addition to the 30-second national ad buy, which will run during the first quarter of the game, Rakuten will expand the Clueless-inspired campaign to TV and social media through the end of Q1.

The decision to invest so heavily in the Super Bowl, where ads are selling for $7 million per 30-second spot during FOX’s live broadcast, is part of a strategy to increase awareness of its savings platform in the region, Vicki McRae, SVP of brand and creative at Rakuten explained. 

“Our first year [in the Super Bowl] was to introduce ourselves. We thought the message should be super simple, because 30 seconds is obviously not a lot of time to tell a big story, and we thought about our Super Bowl initiative as a program, not just as a spot in the game.” 

This year, Rakuten has less pressure to explain what the brand is and introduce it to the marketplace, allowing it to take a more playful approach to “cementing” itself in the shopping, savings and cash-back categories, she added. . 

“We wanted to find an idea that could break through and be memorable in the Super Bowl context,” she said. “This one rang like the right concept.” 

According to McRae, results from last year’s Super Bowl investment proved that a return appearance was worth the spend. After the game, the company claims to have seen jumps in awareness, positive sentiment in leadership and trust, as well as spikes in traffic, app downloads, and re-engagement from lapsed users. It did not provide specific figures. 

This year, by tapping into 90s nostalgia, the company hopes to drive a similar spike in awareness metrics by connecting with users emotionally with a beloved IP. 

An in-house endeavor

Rakuten’s Super Bowl ad was created entirely in-house by its 45-person creative team. The team had five or six ideas on the table before settling on the Clueless-theme, McRae said.

Once it had the concept down, the creative team worked to ensure the spot stayed “true to the original movie,” even going so far as to film scenes in the same spots where the 90s film was shot. In the commercial, Silverstone is depicted at Cher’s house, as well as the same classroom as her iconic debate scene. Like in the movie, Cher is seen driving a white Jeep – badly – and wearing her iconic 90s-era outfits. 

Handling the entire process in-house allowed Rakuten to be more nimble when approaching an efforts as large as the Super Bowl, group co-creative directors Tom Coates and Kristin Graham said. 

“Everyone is super involved in every aspect along the way, from helping develop the strategy, to presenting it to leadership,” Graham said. “There aren't as many layers…for approvals and whatnot. It's this core group of people that have been working on the brand for years now and really know the business.”

According to Coates, there are also no “big reveals,” that may or may not result in scrapping a project and going back to the drawing board. For McRae, keeping the process in-house allows for consistency, efficiency and the ability to pivot quickly when needed. It also makes it easier for the creative teams to communicate directly with leadership.

But there are also challenges when pulling off such a massive production solo.

Working entirely in-house means bringing in fresh ideas, and staying fresh without the outside perspective that an agency brings can at times be difficult, McRae said, acknowledging that working with an agency “allows for a third-party, unbiased opinion on the creative, which can be super valuable.” 

Rakuten’s creative team, however, is confident they got it right. 

“We knew we needed to build the brand from the ground up which would require undivided attention, consistency, and dedication,” McRae said. “With Clueless as a backdrop, it's the perfect way to telegraph shopping and connect with consumers in an emotional way. We knew it would be worth the investment.

Campaign US

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