- Ryan Reynolds’ ad agency Maximum Effort has become known for viral stunts.
- Reynolds is often the spokesperson for the clients, many of which he has personal involvement in.
- But skeptics wonder if his star power could end up being a disadvantage for the agency.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
In September 2020, top Match executives hopped on a Zoom call with actor Ryan Reynolds and his business partner George Dewey.
Reynolds, also a member of Match’s board, was visibly excited, recalled Match’s VP of Brand Ayni Raimondi. He pitched what she initially deemed an outlandish idea for the dating app’s end-of-the-year ad: “I thought, there’s no way that the broader team is going to buy into it.”
The idea was a dating-themed parody video on the dumpster fire of a year that 2020 was, with a montage of romantic dates between Satan and a woman named — you guessed it — 2020. Reynolds, said he bombarded the Match team with emails with subject lines like “Hail, Satan” until it was approved.
The 90-second ad racked up 14 million views in 24 hours and gave Match a much-needed publicity boost before peak online dating season, with more than 5 billion earned media impressions, according to the company.
Since launching in 2018, Reynolds and Dewey’s 10-person creative shop Maximum Effort has also produced viral ads for its 11 clients — six of which are brands Reynolds is or has been a stakeholder in.
The industry’s also taken note. Top creative directors have praised its track record, and magazines including Adweek and Fast Company have put him and the agency on their most-creative lists, with Entrepreneur featuring him on its cover just this month.
“Sometimes on a tough day we can feel like the longterm spouse, while Ryan Reynolds is the superhero fling,” said Chris Beresford-Hill, chief creative officer at TBWAChiatDay New York. “But he’s reminded me that we need to spice up all of our longterm marriages, and we need to show up with more audacity and a little bit more like movie stars.”
But experts said the agency also had to do more than just viral ads and hook advertisers other than companies Reynolds is himself involved with to be taken seriously.
Maximum Effort has found success making viral campaigns for brands
The idea for Maximum Effort goes back to November 2017 when Reynolds caught up with Dewey over drinks at the lobby bar of New York City’s Greenwich Hotel, and asked the former McCann creative if he wanted to found a production company together.
The two had worked on a guerrilla marketing campaign for the Reynolds-starrer “Deadpool” in 2016, which despite a tiny budget helped make it one of the highest-grossing R-rated movies of all time until Joker usurped it in 2019. (And yes, the company’s name is a play on a “Deadpool” catchphrase.)
“[That’s when] I really fell in love with the power of marketing, whereas before that, I [had] found it to be an obligatory aspect of my job as opposed to a creative one,” Reynolds said.
Since then, Maximum Effort has made one blockbuster campaign after another.
It spoofed the widely ridiculed Peloton ad in 2019, showing the “Peloton wife” drowning her sorrows drinking Aviation Gin; brought back comedian Rick Moranis to tout Mint Mobile; and milked Reynolds’ friendly feud with actor Hugh Jackman for a joint spot for Aviation Gin and Jackman’s Laughing Man Coffee company.
These campaigns have benefited from Reynolds’ 55 million-strong following on social media and his celebrity, which he’s used to promote several clients as their de facto spokesperson. They’re also notable for taking unconventional approaches to established categories like liquor and telecom.
“Maximum Effort has come up with an interesting model integrating talent, production and marketing — it’s part of a surge of innovation,” said Colin Mitchell, a former marketing exec a McDonald’s and co-founder and chief strategy officer at creative consultancy Pltfrmr.
“They know how to creatively take risks without jumping off the guardrails,” said Andrew Chrisomalis, CEO at Aviation’s parent company Davos Brands. “As Ryan likes to say it, they like to bend, not break.”
But skeptics question if the agency will be able to scale
Several Hollywood celebrities have gotten involved with brands and agencies over the years, as brand ambassadors, creative directors and product engineers, or as stakeholders like Jay-Z with the music streaming service Tidal.
There are celebrity-led production companies and ad agencies, too, like Spike Lee’s SpikeDDB, Dwayne Johnson’s Seven Bucks Creative, and Shaquille O’Neal’s just announced Majority. But many of these ventures end up cooling without making much of a splash.
And there are pitfalls of being invested in the client’s businesses and the face (or voice) of nearly all your ad campaigns, said Beresford-Hill.
“It’s a huge advantage as long as they’re using Ryan Reynolds to set up and distinguish their brand voice, which can stand on its own at some point,” he said. “But they have to make sure they’re not ‘the Ryan Reynolds brand,’ but a brand that Ryan Reynolds is amplifying.”
Reynolds acknowledged he has an advantage in being the owner of Maximum Effort and, in some cases, a stakeholder of the client. But he said he was spending more time behind the camera.
“I would argue that some of our biggest hits as a company have been pieces that I’ve been involved with with behind-the-scenes,” he said, pointing at the Match and Aviation Peloton wife ad as examples.
Another downside of Reynolds being so tied to Maximum Effort’s brand is that it’ll be hard to scale, said Forrester analyst Jay Pattisall.
“It’s easy to produce the magic when you’re a 10-person shop, but consistently repeating that with more people will be a difficult creative hurdle to overcome,” he said. “What got them here won’t take them to the next level. It’ll be a challenge for them to scale this type of velocity beyond clients that are coming to them specifically for these type of viral marketing stunts.”
And clients aren’t necessarily relying on Maximum Effort for much else, either.
“When it comes to long-term planning, building our core positioning, building out our segmentation and targets, and more traditional advertising, that is where we continue to have a roster of partners,” Match’s Raimondi said.
For Maximum Effort, the goal isn’t necessarily taking on Madison Avenue. Reynolds and Dewey said they want to branch out to other areas, like launching physical products and building tech platforms. Their ambition evokes another ad industry outsider, Gary Vaynerchuk, who has shaken up the ad industry and also has multiple lines of businesses.
“I’ve been around the advertising game long enough that I’ve seen the growth of companies like Droga5 and Crispin Porter Bogusky, and seen them evolve into big global ad agencies,” Dewey said. “We’re expanding cautiously. We’re not in any particular rush to become a big global ad agency.”