Super Bowl Watch: 5 Questions With NRG’s Christine Brown and Tony Hale


Tony Hale NRG

You will hear it all week in the lead up to the Super Bowl but like many others you may be left wondering “What is NRG?” The Houston-based energy company, for which the upcoming Super Bowl LI stadium is named, is looking to capitalize on the attention to educate people nationwide about what it does. And to do that, NRG Energy has brought on a star of Arrested Development and Veep.

Emmy Award-winning comedic actor Tony Hale, better known as Buster Bluth from Arrested Development and Gary Walsh in HBO’s Veep, stars as a version of his clueless self in a series of NRG ads. The plot is that Hale has been hired to direct NRG’s Super Bowl ads (#AdFromHale) despite knowing nothing about the company.

Through this humorous set up, Hale learns that NRG is one of America’s leading integrated power companies and one of the nation’s heaviest investors in renewable energy. He even gets a little help from Houston Texans NFL star JJ Watt. “He was a really nice guy,” Hale told brandchannel. “He does a little cameo in one of our spots and we joked around because I know nothing about football.”

brandchannel spoke with football novice Hale and Christine Brown, NRG Vice President of Corporate Marketing, about the strategy behind the Super Bowl campaign.

bc: Tony, to get to know the brand more, did you tour some NRG facilities? What did they do to help you learn about NRG?

Tony Hale

Tony Hale (right): When I started working with them, the challenge was how do we get people involved and tell this energy story without just throwing a lot of facts and data at them. Because honestly, when that happens, I just shut down. So we came up with this fun idea where I play the idiot—my speciality—and then I’m called in to direct these commercials but know nothing about NRG.

And it’s through me BSing that we learn what NRG does. Things like they’re the largest competitive power generator in the US. Or, what I never knew, that they want to reduce carbon emissions by more than 90 percent over the next few decades by using renewable energy. So you kind of hear these things through my character. It was really fun. We shot it at the NRG Stadium in Houston where the Super Bowl will take place.

bc: Since working with NRG, has your attitude toward power and energy changed?

Hale: Absolutely. It’s stuff we don’t think about. We bought a house recently that has solar panels—and we had not had that previously. And you see the impact and what a difference it makes. Without it being brought to your attention, you just don’t think about power. And through the process of making these, I now think about it a lot more. There are some pretty smart people out there, smart people doing amazing things.

bc: Christine, NRG is well-known in Houston. What does the brand hope to get out of reaching its largest-ever audience?

Christine Brown NRGChristine Brown (right): We want businesses and consumers to know that NRG is the nation’s largest competitive power generator and leading electricity provider with nearly 3 million customers. And we want them to know that we are committed to a sustainable energy future so when they are making energy choices for their business or home, they already have a positive relationship with our brand.

bc: How did NRG and Tony get together?

Brown: With our name on the stadium for the Big Game, many people tuning in will be hearing about NRG for the first time. And Google search traffic for brands with naming right on stadiums hosting Super Bowls historically see sharp increases around the game. We want to capitalize on that spike in curiosity to answer the question “What is NRG?” in a compelling way.

We’ve done just that through this content series. When we were deciding who could help bring our message to life and who also shared our commitment to a sustainable energy future, we quickly realized Tony Hale was the perfect fit.

bc: Renewable energy is a big part of the message. How else is NRG getting the message out about its renewable, sustainable energy investment in a marketplace where many consumers may hear “power company” and assume the worst?

Brown: When NRG decided to raise the profile of our commitment to reliable, sustainable energy, we looked for partnerships that could create an impact and have the most reach. There’s no larger platform in the US than professional football. We worked with seven NFL teams to install economic and attractive solar and wind energy solutions on six stadiums. We amplify these relationships and installations throughout our marketing mix.

Get more branding insights in our Q&A series