Make Me Cry: The Story Behind Wrigley Gum & Haley Reinhart's Unforgettable 'Sarah & Juan' Ad

Wrigley's "Extra Gum: The Story of Sarah & Juan" commercial.
Courtesy Photo

Wrigley's "Extra Gum: The Story of Sarah & Juan" commercial.

By now, you’ve probably seen the Wrigley’s Extra gum commercial that shows the love story of Sara and Juan. Set to a hauntingly beautiful cover of "Can’t Help Falling In Love" by American Idol alum Haley Reinhart, it earned over seven million YouTube views and more than 78 million Facebook views (with over 1.1 million shares) within a week of its Oct. 8 digital release. The song alone sold 19,000 downloads in that time, debuting at No. 48 on Billboard’s Digital Songs chart. And that was before it hit primetime television Oct. 19.

“In 20 years in marketing, I’ve never seen the consumer reaction I’ve seen this early with any piece of advertising I’ve been affiliated with,” said John Starkey, Wrigley’s vp of gums and mints.

"We had the perfect song, the perfect voice and the perfect story," said Andrés Ordoñez, the evp and executive creative director of Energy BBDO, the Chicago-based advertising agency behind the campaign.

The story of “Sarah and Juan” goes back to 2013, when Energy BBDO came up with a campaign titled “Origami” for Wrigley’s "Give extra, get extra" campaign for Extra gum, whose brand strategy is about making meaningful connections. The one-minute spot featuring a father and daughter bonding over the years through little origami figures made with gum wrappers was a huge success. Wrigley asked BBDO for a follow-up. 

Ordonez and his team came up with the love story of Sarah, an American girl, and Juan, a Spaniard, a bicultural couple who reflected the reality of the marketplace.

Starkey fell in love with the concept. But BBDO also wanted to attach it to a song, as opposed to using generic background music like “Origami” had.

The Energy BBDO music team, led by Daniel Kuypers, sorted through some 120 songs before settling on "Can't Help Falling In Love." They listened to “all three zillion covers and the original,” says Kuypers, but wanted something more contemporary and tailored to the spot. After listening to 35-40 artists, they commissioned demos from a handful.

“My instructions were, ‘make me cry,'” says Kuypers.

One of those artists was Reinhart.

Executives at BBDO knew her, not just because she’d ended third in the tenth season of American Idol back in 2011, but also because they’d heard her sing with Postmodern Jukebox and thought her voice was perfect for the emotion the spot wanted to convey.

The fact that Reinhart was a developing act was also appealing. “We’re really trying to make strides in the music space, and this is one of the ways we can do that,” says Kuypers. “We’re very cognizant of using someone who is in their career arc and if we can be a pivotal moment for them, we want to do that.”

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As it had happened, Reinhart was now signed to a publishing and recording deal with ole Media Management, who’d been actively pitching her to BBDO. Over lunch in Nashville with Randall Foster, ole’s senior director of creative licensing, Kuypers asked if Reinhart would be interested.

By the following day, she delivered a demo with longtime collaborator Casey Abrams at the piano. BBDO loved it. They put the music to the storyboard and took it to Starkey.

“Andres played the song and we said, 'That's it,'" Starkey recalls.

Up until then, Foster thought he had simply struck a good synch deal.

“Until I saw the mock up of the commercial,” says Foster, who was sitting in his car in rush hour traffic when the link came in and he watched it on his phone. “My eyes welled up,” he says. “If a grown man watches a commercial and it drives me to tears, I knew it would connect.”

At that point, what was simply a cover for a commercial became a single.

Reinhart, who hadn’t seen the campaign up until that point, went back to the studio to re-record the track, to give it the intimacy the spot called for. ole pushed production, mixing and mastering and then pulled all its strings to get the single onto iTunes the same day the campaign launched on YouTube.

Now, BBDO and Wrigley are waiting for reaction to the one-minute, 30-second and 15-second television spots, which launched Oct. 19. A 15-second spot is airing on Spanish-language networks.

As for Reinhart, this could be the charm. After her American Idol stint in 2011, she was signed by Interscope, then dropped after one album when they label let go of more than 50 acts in late 2012.

Now, through ole, she’s slated to release her next EP of original material. “Falling In Love” may provide the perfect launching pad for the album, says Foster. 

“It’s taken off like nothing I’ve ever been a part of,” he says. “The EP was almost done and we were trying to figure out the best time to release it. This created a catalyst.”

David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images
Haley Reinhart from Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox performs at L'Alhambra on March 12, 2015 in Paris, France.