The death of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in Avengers: Endgame inspired Planters to kill off 104-year-old mascot Mr. Peanut in a viral ad campaign that will continue through the Super Bowl. Planters' 2020 Big Game ad, "Road Trip," has pulled in over six million views since its Jan. 22 debut on YouTube, showing Mr. Peanut swerve to avoid hitting an armadillo while driving the Nutmobile. When the vehicle goes over a cliff, Mr. Peanut and passengers Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes are left dangling from a branch close to snapping. To save his friends, Mr. Peanut releases his grip, sending him falling into the canyon below before the Nutmobile explodes.
Mr. Peanut's sacrifice was influenced by the high-profile death of Marvel Studios' flagship superhero Tony Stark in Endgame, where Stark perished when making a sacrifice play to defeat warmonger Thanos (Josh Brolin) and an invading alien army. When Planter's ad firm VaynerMedia saw the intense online and real-life fervor surrounding the bold creative decision to kill off an iconic character, the decision was made to have Mr. Peanut die a hero.
"We started talking about how the internet treats when someone dies — specifically, we were thinking about fictional characters, [like when] Iron Man died. When Iron Man died, we saw an incredible reaction on Twitter and on social media," said Mike Pierantozzi, group creative director of VaynerMedia (via MSN). "It’s such a strange phenomenon. We did the unthinkable: we created a program and an idea where Mr. Peanut dies, and dies specifically sacrificing himself for his friends, which has always been a tenet of who he is and what he does — he always puts others first."
The ad, to be followed by a commercial showing Mr. Peanut's funeral during the third quarter of the Super Bowl, quickly went viral on Twitter. The brand's Twitter handle, @MrPeanut, was changed to "The Estate of Mr. Peanut" as other food brands and Twitter users paid tribute to the top hat-wearing peanut.
Because Mr. Peanut and his Nutmobile were well-known to the general public, Planters "made it really easy for people to get involved with the idea," Pierantozzi said. "It was in the language of something people already understood in the world of Twitter and in the world of Facebook. It was very simple for people to get involved."
Pierantozzi also said the ad needed to find the right middle ground between humor and solemnity. "You have to strike the perfect tone on this, or you really could end up with a problem," he explained. "So we definitely considered that. We're very happy with the response we're getting. We feel like we nailed the tone."
Like Endgame, which concluded with the most famous characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe attending a funeral for the fallen Iron Man, mourners will be able to grieve Mr. Peanut when his sendoff is aired during the big game.
"There will be a funeral, and an opportunity for hundreds of millions of people who love Mr. Peanut to pay their respects," Pierantozzi said.
While Planters parent company Kraft Heinz intends to air the "Road Trip" and funeral ads during the Super Bowl, the campaign has been put on pause following the death of Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday alongside eight others in a helicopter crash. In a statement, Kraft Heinz said the company "will evaluate next steps through a lens of sensitivity to those impacted by this tragedy."
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