Inside an unrefined Super Bowl debut

Standing six feet, two inches tall, Brad Woodgate tends to stands out in a crowd. Now add a custom-made pink suit, a would-be viral dance called the “Joywalk,” and the lead role in a Super Bowl ad, and the founder and CEO of Toronto-based No Sugar Company will be hard to miss this weekend.

“I’m pushing my boundaries for sure,” admits Woodgate ahead of his company’s TV advertising debut in Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI: A 30-second spot for Joyburst, the No Sugar Company’s new line of naturally caffeinated and sugar-free flavoured sparkling energy drinks.  

For the self-described serial entrepreneur, getting an ad into advertising’s marquee event is the realization of a goal he’s had since he was just 21 years old and embarking on a career that would see him sell more than $1 billion worth of products (and counting) through a series of companies in the health and wellness space.

The Joyburst ad will air nationally in Canada, as well as in select U.S. markets where the product has distribution. The media buy, by New York-based Chief Media, also includes an additional six-week run on CTV and specialty channels like Sportsnet, supported by point-of-sale marketing, sampling and PR.

Woodgate calls the Super Bowl a “coming out party” for the No Sugar Company, which launched in 2018 and has since secured distribution deals with major retailers including Walmart (in both Canada and the U.S.), Calgary Co-Op, Goodness Me and select Costco locations.

“It’s by far the biggest marketing we’ve ever done,” he says. “I’ve been in business for 22 years with various companies, and one of my personal dreams and goals was to produce and star in a Super Bowl commercial. We’ve got to a stage in our business where it was affordable for us to do something as extravagant as this.”

Shot in Orlando in December, the 30-second spot, “Natural Energy. It’s a Thing,” is relatively straightforward compared to some of the high-concept, big-budget spots being put forward by Super Bowl stalwarts like Budweiser, Lays and BMW. But what it lacks in pizzazz, it makes up for in chutzpah.

It features Woodgate, surrounded by dancers clad in outfits colour coordinated to match Joyburst’s five flavours (green for lime, purple for grape, etc.) holding the slender cans and performing the Joywalk, a bespoke dance developed by L.A.-based choreographer Coco, a self-described “curator of good vibes.”

“I could be considered to have two left feet, and it took a lot of hours to learn this dance,” says Woodgate, who practiced the moves until 3 a.m. the night before the shoot. “It was a crazy, unbelievable experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world,” he says. “And you’re doing it for the Super Bowl, so you can’t not be excited.”

Woodgate’s hope is that the #Joywalk can become a viral sensation, and the company has enlisted up to 1,000 influencers to share it on their Instagram and/or TikTok channel (tagging the Natural Sugar Company) immediately after the ad airs.

“I wanted to ensure it had a viral component to it, so that if the Joywalk dance we created takes off, it will lead to further exposure for the brand,” he says. “[Coco’s] task was to create a dance that hasn’t been done before, but wouldn’t be too hard for the average person to try out themselves.”

“You’ve got to bring the energy when you’re launching a drink like Joyburst, and we believe the viral nature of the #Joywalk embodies that,” says Ray Rainville, managing partner, executive creative director of New Jersey-based Consolidated Content Company, which developed the spot with input from Woodgate.

Joyburst derives its energy properties from green tea extract, which works as a natural caffeine. However, the spot bleeps out multiple references to the words “natural energy.” Woodgate’s hope is that the tactic will arouse people’s curiosity and drive them to the Joyburst website, which informs them that Canadian broadcast regulations prevented them from using the words, but invites them to view the “uncensored” version of the spot.

The ad also marks an audacious attempt by the No Sugar Company to make inroads in a consumer category—energy drinks—that is dominated by deep-pocketed global giants like Red Bull and Monster Energy. Woodgate says it’s one of the hardest business challenges he’s ever faced.

“You’re going to have to do something really extravagant and over-the-top marketing-wise [to stand out],” he says. “It was important for me to be the face of that, it was important to me to be the face of the [sugar-free] lifestyle, and it was important for us to have this grand statement, launching it during the Super Bowl.”

The ad also marks the Canadian TV debut for the No Sugar Company, which has largely relied on product demos to grow consumer awareness. This will be a pivotal year for the company, with Woodgate saying he expects to spend more than $10 million on a combination of advertising, product demos, influencer marketing etc. over the next 12 months.

“It’s all based on how passionately I feel that this no-sugar [movement] is becoming a thing,” he says. “I firmly believe that 10 years from now, we’re going to look back on refined sugar the way we look back at smoking. It’s that adverse to your health.”

Woodgate, who dubs himself “Canada’s no sugar king,” says he’s a “true believer” in the potential of sugar-free products. He started exploring the effects of refined sugar following a personal health issue in 2015, which led to a 2021 book entitled No Sugar in Me in which he contends that refined sugar is one of the biggest threats to our health.

In 2012, Forbes ran an article headlined “Should CEOs be in TV ads?” which took a critical look at ads featuring famous business leaders such as Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca and Wendy’s Dave Thomas. It cited a study by Ace Metrix, which concluded that “in general, ads featuring CEOs outperform ads that do not feature CEOs.”

However, the study also concluded that dull or boring CEOs, or leaders who fail to positively differentiate a brand, are “the kiss of death in advertising,” and stressed that CEOs must come across as “genuine” to truly resonate with consumers.

Woodgate, though, says he’s committed to his new role as the face of Joyburst. “Once you put yourself out there as the face of the brand, you can’t really take it back,” he says. “I think consumers have become so savvy, and authenticity is a key measure.

“I’ve sold well over $1 billion worth of products during my entrepreneurial experience, and I have high hopes for this brand,” he says. “If I’m out there drinking [cola] with a ton of sugar in it, my authenticity comes into play. And that would never happen.”

He’s not just talking the talk, then. He’s also walking the (Joy)walk.

Chris Powell