Brands Capitalize on the 'Impending Apocalypse'

On Monday, Jell-O released a TV spot in which a company executive decked out in survivalist fatigues ascends a Mayan temple with a crate of Jell-O pudding. The treats, which he calls “the funnest sacrifice ever,” are meant to appease the gods who, the ancient Mayans believed, will be ending the world this Friday. The spot will run on television and online all week, with a sequel scheduled to run this weekend, should the human race avoid total destruction.

Jell-O isn’t the only company vying to cash in on the end of existence. There’s also Chevy’s post-apocalyptic Super Bowl ad for the Silverado from earlier this year, and Shock Top’s “End of the World” spot. (Why be upset about the end of the world when it’s the perfect excuse to blissfully consume like there’s no tomorrow?) Even Britney Spears used the Mayan apocalypse as a theme to get her fans dancing in Till the World Ends.

Advertisers often generate buzz around events, such as the Super Bowl and Christmas, but is it smart to associate your product—however cheekily—with mass annihilation? “The apocalypse, like this, is perfect because it is the end of the world as an inside joke for everyone—except for the Mayans,” says Tobe Berkovitz, associate professor of advertising at Boston University. “It’s the perfect water cooler catastrophe,” because no one really takes it seriously. “Let’s put it this way: So far I haven’t seen many commercials making fun of the fiscal cliff, so you leave that one alone and go for the Mayan calendar.”

That said, investing in a gag commercial that has a shelf life of one week is expensive. Jell-O did not disclose the cost of the commercial, but John Verret, an advertising professor at BU, says, “I think it must have cost a lot of money. I can never understand why a major brand would focus on a relatively ‘small’ event, but the theory seems to be that it will attract a lot of buzz and they may have an entire ‘Jell-O Saved the World’ campaign coming right behind the kickoff event.”