For the last three weeks, videos of Michael Cera have circulated online, claiming that the actor is the founder of the skin care brand CeraVe.
Michael Cera. CeraVe. Get it?
In late January, paparazzi photos of Mr. Cera lugging giant bags of CeraVe around New York City appeared in Page Six and People magazine. The same week, Mr. Cera was spotted handing out moisturizer to pedestrians and signing bottles of CeraVe at Euro Chemist, a pharmacy in Brooklyn.
Influencers such as Kirbie Johnson and Haley Kalil were paid as part of the marketing campaign to post content speculating on a potential partnership between the brand and actor. In a promotional YouTube video with Bobbi Althoff, host of “The Really Good Podcast,” Mr. Cera performatively walked out of the interview when questioned about his relationship with CeraVe.
It’s all part of an ultra-meta, multipronged marketing campaign that CeraVe has been unveiling layer by layer over weeks, and which will culminate in its first Super Bowl commercial. It is an unexpected turn, perhaps, for a brand that has been an unassuming drugstore favorite for years — and for its star, Mr. Cera, who rarely does brand collaborations. He’s also a rather unlikely, and memorable, choice for a beauty ambassador in a field crowded with celebrity skin care lines.
“So, my name is Cera. So, it’s a perfect crossover opportunity,” Mr. Cera deadpans in a scene depicting a boardroom pitch in CeraVe’s 30-second spot, which is expected to air during the first quarter of the game.
Only in the final seconds of the ad, a version of which has been reviewed by The New York Times, do dermatologists clarify that CeraVe wasn’t developed with Mr. Cera.
The commercial gives other indications that the claims are fantastical. At times Mr. Cera is filmed with the drama, sensuality and dreamlike quality of ’90s perfume ads, down to the male models flanking him.
“Human skin is my passion,” Mr. Cera says at the beginning of the spot, where he scales a mountain before appearing in a boardroom with a bunch of suits and doctors in lab coats. An extended version of the ad also features a talking narwhal.
It’s tongue in cheek, but as part of the ruse, CeraVe is also responding to the speculation that Mr. Cera helped create CeraVe, keeping the virality of the campaign going without misleading consumers too far. “CeraVe is and always has been developed with dermatologists,” the brand posted on its social media channels last week.
The campaign was developed by WPP, led by the ad agency Ogilvy North America, and the commercial was directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of Prettybird, the American comedy duo known as Tim & Eric, whom Mr. Cera pitched for the project.
“We knew the campaign hinged on getting him,” said Charlotte Tansill, president of Ogilvy public relations, social and influence, North America. Ms. Tansill, who called the project “over the top and chaotic,” said Mr. Cera agreed to be part of the campaign right away.
CeraVe’s global brand general manager, Melanie Vidal, pointed out that Reddit threads had already made a connection between Mr. Cera and the obvious marketing crossover potential.
“Why is Michael Cera not the spokesperson for CeraVe? One is a moisturizer helping people look more youthful and the other is probably the most youthful looking man alive,” read a Reddit post from seven years ago. Another post, from six years ago, referred to the brand as “Michael Cerave.”
“You have this interesting juxtaposition of serious medicalized skin care supported by doctors, with this love, admiration and connection to the everyday consumer that’s largely happening on social media,” said David Greenberg, chief executive of L’Oréal USA, a subsidiary of L’Oréal, which acquired CeraVe in 2017.
CeraVe isn’t the first beauty brand to advertise at the Super Bowl. Last year, E.l.f. Cosmetics dominated the Super Bowl beauty conversation, putting Jennifer Coolidge in a commercial co-written by the “White Lotus” creator Mike White. (This year, E.l.f. is doing something similar, with the actor Zach Woods, known for his roles in “Silicon Valley” and “The Office,” directing a 30-second spot.) NYX Professional Makeup will also air its first Super Bowl commercial on Sunday.
Mr. Greenberg declined to say how much CeraVe paid for airtime during the big game, but Michael Duda, managing partner at Bullish, a consumer marketing and investment firm, said a 30-second spot during the first quarter of the game costs around $7 million, which doesn’t include other costs, such as production or Mr. Cera’s fees.
Mr. Cera, who is not active on social media and does not own a smartphone, according to a publicist for CeraVe, did not respond to requests for comment. Until now, Mr. Cera has only one other brand partnership under his belt, with Uber Eats. This is the actor’s first time working with a beauty brand.