The scene opens in hell. We see flames. We hear screams. Then the camera closes in on Satan himself—big horns, giant pectorals, bright red skin—as he slumps over on his throne. His phone buzzes. He glances at the screen. “You’re a match!” it says. Satan perks up, eyes wide in amazement. The dark lord, it appears, is looking for love on Match.com.
Cut to: a bridge underpass, in a park on Earth. There are trees. It is quiet. Satan waits to meet his date. A woman approaches. “Hi, Two-zero-two-zero?” Satan says to her. “Please,” she replies, “call me 2020.” Then it’s montage time: Satan and 2020 picnicking in an empty football stadium, doing yoga in an empty gym, stealing toilet paper and hanging out by a Dumpster fire, and generally setting their hearts aflame as they watch the world burn.
When this ad for Match.com debuted online in December 2020, it triggered an instant lovefest online. Ryan Reynolds expected as much. He cowrote and produced the spot for his marketing company, Maximum Effort, which has become one of the hottest in the advertising game. “I would have paid for [the Match ad] myself just to make sure we got it done,” Reynolds says. “I felt pretty confident that it would work. And when it did work, then I would go bill them back.” He laughs. But don’t worry about his compensation: He’s also on Match.com’s board.
Reynolds used to dislike marketing. He saw it as an obligation. And anyway, he was an actor; the marketing was for other people. But then, he spent a decade trying to turn the oddball Marvel superhero Deadpool into a movie—and even when 20th Century Fox finally got on board, the studio remained skeptical of its potential. So he teamed up with one of the studio’s marketing execs, George Dewey, who’d spent 15 years at the giant ad agency McCann, and they launched a ridiculous guerrilla campaign that stirred up so much excitement that Deadpool became the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. (And so did its sequel.)
“We started to look at marketing as a completely different tool we had in the shed, and something we could really tell stories with,” Reynolds says. “Everything is storytelling; if you’re not paying attention to that, then you’re just broadcasting and not engaging.” He and Dewey joined forces to build Maximum Effort, which has since produced consistent viral gems for a range of projects, including companies Reynolds owns (most notably Aviation Gin and the low-cost wireless company Mint Mobile). “Now I look at marketing as one of the great joys of my life and my business.”
Recently, while shooting a film in Vancouver, Reynolds stepped away to share what he’s learned about pushing the boundaries of what’s creatively possible—and pushing himself (and his team) to constantly reinvent.
Tell me about your creative process. When you sit down to come up with something like that Match ad, where are you starting?
You know that line about how Shakespeare smuggled poetry into popular works? Well, we’re kind of the opposite. We really feel like, when somebody is watching an ad, there’s no reason it cannot feel extremely entertaining and inventive and fun.
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