Death Wish Coffee: the underdog Super Bowl ad to watch

Sunday, January 31, 2016 - 5:10pm

Super Bowl 50 is on CBS this Sunday, which means three things: beer, Beyonce and banging commercials. (And Coldplay, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, if we’re getting technical.) For me, all the entertainment of the Super Bowl happens outside the game — the pregame and pizza; the gaudy halftime show; the advertisements that make you cry (Budweiser clydesdales and puppies, I’m looking at you) and split your sides (if you haven’t seen Anna Kendrick’s Newcastle beer commercial, watch it now).

Altogether, the Super Bowl is really just a big, fat televised spectacle of all things American, from its whooping football fans and celebrity shows, to its corporate commercials that cost upwards of five million dollars for 30 seconds of airtime. To afford a commercial slot during the most-watched event on TV, companies must be very powerful — think Pepsi, Doritos, or State Farm Insurance — because the Super Bowl doesn’t do small.   

There’s hope, however, for small businesses to be heard in the Super Bowl. Last August, Intuit QuickBooks, an accounting software company catered towards small businesses, hosted a competition called “Small Business, Big Game,” in which 15,000 companies across the country entered for the chance to win an all-expenses paid, 30-second advertisement to air during the Super Bowl. For inspired entrepreneurs and mom-and-pop shops, winning the ad slot would be the opportunity of a lifetime — their products would be broadcast in front some 114.4 million people, giving the company incredible exposure and a springboard for future sales.

And for some small businesses, like New York-based Death Wish Coffee, the quirky winner of this year’s competition, winning meant another thing: getting the country hyped on caffeine.

Though Death Wish Coffee founder Mike Brown has now hired new staff members for his roasting crew (for a still-tiny staff total of 12) and is expecting a huge business growth after the Super Bowl, his future hasn’t always been certain. Before founding Death Wish in 2012, Brown worked at a small coffee shop, Saratoga Coffee Traders, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Brown told Fortune magazine that his customers would often request “a cup of your strongest coffee,” inspiring Brown to tinker with his roasting process, using robusta coffee beans instead of classic arabica beans.

The result? A cup of coffee with two times the caffeine of an average cup of joe. Brown dubbed the jitter-juice “Death Wish Coffee,” and the brand has steadily gained a cult-like fan base (maybe because it’s so addictive?), earning more five-star reviews than any bag of coffee on Amazon. Brown accredits to his loyal fans Death Wish’s victory in “Small Business, Big Game,” as the winner was determined by public votes. His roastery beat runner-up companies Chubbies Shorts, official clothing sponsor of frat boys everywhere, as well as Vidler’s 5 & 10, a family-owned general store.

Naturally, the commercial for Death Wish is just as intense as the brand itself. Released late last week, the finished ad looks remarkably similar to a “Poseidon”-esque movie trailer: there’s a soaking wet crew of Vikings rolling on a sea of black coffee, their fearless captain shouting, “The day of reckoning is upon us! Row, awaken and welcome death!” Intense battle cries follow, like a real-life reenactment of a caffeine-induced energy surge. The sea turns dark, then pours from a mug into a coffee drinker’s mouth. Death Wish signs off with the slogan, “Death Wish Coffee: Fiercely Caffeinated.”   

“I think it’s going to be one of the best, if not the best ad in the Super Bowl,” Brown told Fox Business. Whether the commercial stands its ground alongside the likes of GoDaddy.com and the Esurance baby is yet to be determined, but we can safely say that Death Wish will be the only small business on the field this Sunday — and that’s something to applaud.

Brown continued in his Fox Business interview, “Half of the entire workforce works for small businesses. The fact that I’m able to represent small businesses is an honor.”

Maybe Super Bowl 50 can be the game when we all drink a little more craft beer and a little less Budweiser, the year we brew a little more Death Wish Coffee and a little less Starbucks. After all, what’s more American than rooting for, the underdog?