Returning to the Big Game after a 21-year hiatus was always part of the plan, but Diet Coke found its comeback commercial unexpectedly in an off-the-cuff outtake. Most ads take months of creative develelopment – from ideation, to filming, to editing, but Diet Coke’s “Groove”, took mere minutes.

The spot, part of Diet Coke’s "Because I Can" creative campaign, channels the idea of doing the things in life that make you happy, no matter what others think. A series of films takes a more straightforward and self-aware direction for Diet Coke, while preserving the brand’s signature confidence. 

Nothing embodies this spirit more than the filming of “Groove,” and the team that brought it to life.

Last fall, on a sweltering day in East Los Angeles, renowned film director Paul Feig and Hayley Magnus, an up-and-coming comedic actress from Australia, were shooting what was supposed to be a six-second social media “bumper” clip for “Because I Can.”

But between takes, and fueled by a few sips of the new Diet Coke Twisted Mango, Magnus was feeling it.

She expressed her love of the drink  with an impromptu dance. Her frenetic, yet fluid, freestyle incorporated wiggly, jellyfish-like moves and an upright take on “the worm” from the ‘80s breakdancing era.

All unscripted, and all Magnus.

Feig was feeling it, too. The director known for the cult classic TV series Freak and Geeks and blockbuster movies Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and the 2016 Ghostbusters re-boot let the cameras roll, encouraging Magnus to keep her improvised groove going against a bright yellow wall, with Scottish DJ Sam Gellaitry’s “Long Distance” providing a percussive soundtrack.

“It was supposed to be shot from the waist up,” Feig recalled. “But Hayley just kept dancing, and it was so great.

"So I said to our director of photography, Autumn Durald, ‘Let’s get a wider shot.’ And Hayley ad-libbed about mango and just did her thing. I love nothing more than working with funny female actors and just stepping back and seeing what they can do.”

A few minutes later, Feig and the team from the Anomaly agency knew they had something special.

“We all looked at each other and said, ‘This could be our Big Game ad,’” Feig recalled.

What viewers will see during a second-quarter commercial break is 30 seconds of sheer, shimmy-and-shake spontaneity.

“A director can really set the tone on set, and Paul Feig set a great one,” Magnus said. “Paul is my favorite audience. He laughed at my terrible jokes, which only prompted me to make more terrible jokes. His direction was both generous and succinct. He’d prompt me in a certain direction, and then I would just keep going until he would suggest something else.”

She adds, “I’ll take credit for the dancing though. No one can or should dance like I do.”

Magnus’ authenticity and playful confidence aligns with the tone of Diet Coke’s “Because I Can” campaign.

“This moment on set was such a spontaneous display of awesomeness,” said Danielle Henry, group director, integrated marketing, Coca-Cola North America. “This is certainly not a typical Big Game commercial, but it so perfectly captured the spirit of our new Diet Coke campaign, so we went with it. Because we could.”

Magnus, who lives in Los Angeles, got her start as an actress on the hit Aussie soap opera Home & Away. In addition to comedic and dramatic roles on several Australian TV series, she starred alongside Kate Winslet in 2015's critically acclaimed film The Dressmaker. She’ll be featured in the forthcoming FX series Shark Lords and a film titled Action #1.

“We knew going in from the audition that Hayley was a goldmine of creativity,” Feig said. “She was so effervescent and funny.”

Hayley Magnus Paul Feig
Director Paul Feig and Hayley Magnus share a laugh on set in East Los Angeles.

Feig is known for his embrace of improvisation and his ability to coax comedic performances that speak to the true personalities of the talent he works with. In addition to the Big Game spot, he captured other actors’ reactions to four new Diet Coke flavors of in a series of online videos that have been running since the new campaign launched.

“Once I cast the actors, if I’ve done so correctly, my job is 90 percent done,” Feig said. “I don’t care what someone looks like… it’s all about the personality and individuality – either confidence or vulnerability or inventiveness – they can bring to something that’s written. There are a lot of great writers, but actors have to be able to interpret a script and make it feel real on screen.”

He concludes, “When you’ve found the right people, the real fun begins when you get to the set. That’s where we start to play. That fun comes through on camera, and is what ultimately gets the audience excited.”