Why Critical Role's D&D Beyond Ad is a Perfect Commercial
There are very few perfect commercials in this world. "Aaron Burr" for Got Milk. "Mikey likes it" for Life cereal. Disney's "Wonderball," which featured a jingle that still goes through my head every week.
But a couple years ago, the folks at "Critical Role" produced an ad for D&D Beyond, and it's an absolutely perfect commercial.
For those who aren't aware - and it actually doesn't matter, but for those curious - "Critical Role" is a Dungeons & Dragons live-stream, and they created an ad for an online D&D supplement called "D&D Beyond." And it's a perfect advertisement.
Ok, let’s break down why this is an incredible ad:
1. The main character is an audience surrogate, who is also a woman of color. This is actually really, really important to me, because it helps establish the positive steps D&D is making in 5th edition to reach out to the non-typical “gamer” (stereotypically white men).
2. Expanding on that point, she’s also young - the animation style depicts her as youthful, and we get the sense that she’s in her teens. Not only does this help reinforce the Saturday Morning Cartoon aesthetic (which it totally does), it also reinforces my earlier point - the audience for D&D is expanding, and no longer are the players all in their 40s (and counting). Shows like Critical Role bring in young people, so the commercial represents that.
3. It shows her struggling with all the papers, and then turning to the iPad and everything gets magical. That’s just a basic truism of advertising - show the client why they need to get your product. Check that off the list.
4. Nott hiding behind Fjord is absolutely adorable. And totally in character, and that’s a really nice touch - this commercial feels like it fits into the world established by the show. That’s pretty important for synergy.
6. The action sequence (which is full of cool details I won’t dig into) highlights the audience surrogate character - she begins and ends the action scene, and the camera lingers the longest. Once again, you are someone who watches "Critical Role," but the ad is selling the fact that D&D Beyond makes you a hero.
7. Okay I know I said I wasn’t going to dig into the little details, but here are some: Caleb casts dancing lights right away, Yasha’s eyes crackle with lightning, Molly’s eyes and swords glow red (because he's a blood hunter who enchants his swords), Nott blazes across the battlefield (because she is a rogue with a cunning action), Caleb does his fire thing, Beau catches an arrow out of the air, Jester heals Fjord and winks at him and then summons a giant lollypop and if you didn’t know anything about Jester then now you pretty much know everything about Jester.
8. “You got your swords” hey look that’s a great time for a character who creates a magical sword, I know this is basic storyboarding but it’s so well done.
9. The beholder laughs/bellows in the exact same pose as the cover of the Monster Manual, complete with lightning. (Subtext: Buy the book so you too can experience these iconic moments!)
10. The big glowing transparent Matt Mercer in the background is a nice homage to the original art piece for Campaign 2.
11. The drums aren’t just drums, they’re also Sam Riegel making drum sounds with his mouth. The bard’s gotta bard.
12. Again, we end with a hero shot of not the Mighty Nein (though they do look super badass, and Jester dropping in with her illusory self is another great touch), but with the audience surrogate. And also, those little flashes of magic around the wand are pure 80s cartoon.
13. Those final harmonies are so, so good.
14. As a reminder, this all started as a joke/bit from one of Sam’s pre-game ads for D&D Beyond, only a couple of months ago:
To quote Travis, “If they don’t make that, they’re fools!” Sooooo I guess they weren’t fools.