Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings, a new television show premiering tonight on IFC, plots two best friends as they journey across the United States to understand the country--via advertising.
Rhett & Link won't be a hyper-intellectual attempt to analyze our highest aspirations and deepest desires as a nation, as most media depictions of glamorous advertising do—from the Hucksters and What Women Want to Mad Men. Quite the opposite. We talk to the men behind the show below.
Rhett McLaughlin (left) and Link Neal (right) have one of the most subscribed-to channels on YouTube, where they show their clever commercials, each a viral hit in its own right. Although every ad boasts a different look, the pair deploy the same questionable production values, haphazardly written jingles, and guest appearances to make a hilarious final product. The IFC show documents the creation and production for each of these entertaining, more-rough-than-diamond, gems.
TOH: When did you develop a love for local advertisements?
Link: From the moment I started watching TV, I was developing a love for local commercials. When you see a guy trying to sell you used cars wearing a chicken suit, even if you’re not in the market to buy a car, even if you’re seven years old, you remember that.
Rhett: One of things always grabbed our attention is the ‘unintentional funny.’ I don’t think every producer or business owner thinks it’s going to be really funny…
TOH: You started building your fan base on YouTube years ago. Was expanding your channel into a television show part of the plan?
Rhett: Not really, but it’s something that you’re going to see more and more. Anybody who wants to be in entertainment is going to be uploading stuff and if they’re good they’re going to build a following.
TOH: How will you use your YouTube fame to command a TV audience?
Rhett: These crazy local commercials went viral. They make great stand-alone video. But then people start asking questions, like—is that real? They want to see us interact with Rudy [the Cuban gynecologist-turned-American used-car salesman]. The commercial is candy; the TV show is a full course meal. You see the final product on the Internet, you can see the process on the show.
TOH: What has been your favorite commercial so far?
Link: Presidential carwash, with this great couple from India. They are committed to being the best carwash in town. This meant dressing them up as Presidents and having them rap.
Rhett: My favorite is for Fountain of Health in Florida, which offers colatics. This stuff doesn’t sell itself. Often for local commercials, there will be a celebrity endorsement and we have a Grammy-award-winning musician famous for his 80s love songs, who will be making a cameo and [helped us] write the jingle.
TOH: How do you go about turning local business owners into Internet celebrities?
Link: With the owners of Presidential carwash, the owner said ‘why don’t you hire some actors or rappers.’ I said, ‘First of all – we don’t have a budget, but more importantly, we want people to see you and your wife starring in your own commercial.' They are winsome. We want people to say, 'I want to meet these people.'
Rhett: And what happens time after time a commercial goes up here, everyone who is local says, 'I have to go to this carwash.' Person after person in YouTube comments says, 'I’m getting my car washed there,' or 'if I lived in America I would go here,' or 'I will drive across the country to go there.'
Tune in to IFC at 10pm/9c to watch the show, or visit their YouTube channel at 10:30 for a live-chat and rebroadcast. See if you would also drive across the country to visit Presidential carwash: