Pine Bros. CEO explains the thinking behind his 'surreal ad' starring Ryan Lochte

Ryan lochtePine Bros.A still-image from the upcoming Pine Bros. ad starring Ryan Lochte.

Ryan Lochte — the US Olympic swimmer who lost all his sponsorship deals after he admitted fabricating a story about being robbed at gunpoint at the Rio Olympics — will be starring in his first ad campaign since the incident on November 15.

Lochte signed a deal with Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops in August, just days after brands including Speedo, Ralph Lauren, mattress company Airweave, and Gentle Hair Removal parent company Syneron-Candela announced they were cutting ties with the athlete.

Speaking to Business Insider, Pine Bros. CEO Rider McDowell explained he warmed to Lochte because he also has an interest in swimming. Lochte has also supported pediatric cancer charities — a cause close to McDowell’s heart as his eldest son suffered from brain cancer but fortunately responded well to treatment.

Referring to the incident in Brazil, McDowell said: “Not to forgive Ryan, it was a stupid move, but I’ve done lost of stupid things in my life and I turned out OK. When the sponsors backed off I thought it was quite cowardly. Shortly after [the incident, Ralph Lauren] Polo dropped off, then Speedo, then these companies you have never heard of, I thought: That’s just kind of gross.”

After McDowell saw the stories in the headlines, he asked his PR company to get in touch with Lochte’s management to see if he’d be interested in fronting an ad. Pine Bros. offered Lochte “under half a million” for the endorsement.

Ryan lochte pine brosPine Bros.Ryan Lochte on set of the Pine Bros. ad shoot.

“I offered him a big chunk of change to make a point; to give him a second chance because everyone deserves one at least. Look at politicians, they get a hundred chances,” McDowell said.

Lochte arrived on set at the end of September — just after he had been voted off the “Dancing With The Stars” TV competition — and greeted McDowell with a hug and a thanked you.

McDowell said: “You could just sense he was a little vulnerable, coming off a hard time. He was very sincere and gave me a big hug, he was very grateful. When he did that I really saw … that there was a difference to this guy, that this company got behind him — he really saw it … [Lochte said]: ‘Thank you this means so much to me, I’ve been so depressed and everything,’ he said that … all this stuff, people forget with a celebrity, they take out the human [side.]”

McDowell didn’t want to reveal too many details about the storyline or the creative of the ad, but he described the spot — which carries the tagline “Pine Brothers Softish Throat Drops: Forgiving on your throat” — as “surreal.”

“It’s a non-ad, almost. You think your TV has broken when we watch this ad,” McDowell said. The ad begin to air from November 15.

Rider mcdowellPine Bros.Pine Bros. CEO rider McDowell.

McDowell has form in attention-grabbing marketing stunts.

Previous Pine Bros. campaigns have included a bizarre spot starring rapper Waka Flocka set in the house where “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was filmed and a Martha Stewart Golden Globes ad, which was direct-response in style and jarred from the traditional glitzy campaigns that usually air during the show. McDowell said he also has another ad due for this year’s Golden Globes, which he describes as the “wackiest creative I have ever done.”

Prior to acquiring the Pine Bros. brand, former screenwriter McDowell and his wife Victoria Knight-McDowell, a school teacher, created the Airborne multivitamin and herbal supplement.

In 2009, Airborne had a TV ad rejected from the Super Bowl by Fox because it featured actor Mickey Rooney’s bare backside (Mickey Rooney, pulling a moonie, if you will.) Back in the 1990s, Airborne ambushed the Macy’s Day Parade by hiring 60 out of work actors to wear branded sweaters and walk along with the parade unofficially.

McDowell said he tends to go with his own gut instinct when it comes to marketing, rather than relying on extensive market research or expensive creative agencies.

“I know [Pine Bros.] demographic: It’s most Americans. It’s a very popular brand that straddles a lot of different demographics. It’s a small company and me and my wife, we go on our own tuition and we have the luxury to be able to do that. We’ve had a damn good instinct in the past,” McDowell added.

Pine Bros. says it is the top-selling throat drop at and, with annual sales of just under $40 million, is the third-biggest brand in the sector behind market-leader Halls and Recola in second place.

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