Oscar Mayer (KRFT), storied maker of cylindrical and disc-shaped meat products, last week became a mobile technology company. Sort of. The Oscar Mayer ad department—the folks who brought you the “My bologna has a first name” kid—launched an app that, paired with a “bacon scent device” that you attach to your iPhone headphone jack, will wake you gently by bathing your bedroom in the smell and sounds of frying bacon. It’s a scent that’s guaranteed to rouse the deepest sleeper—pleasantly if one enjoys pork, in a cold sweat if one is vegan. The app can now be downloaded from Apple’s (AAPL) App Store, but the dongle is available only to winners of a contest the company is holding through its website.
The device itself is beside the point—the tone is set by the video that introduces the whole concept, a parody of all those ripely melodramatic eau de parfum ads on TV. Oscar Mayer is carrying out what’s known as a viral marketing campaign. Have you heard of this? Of course you have. It’s when a consumer-products company tries to create buzz—or sizzle—around a product with an ad that’s so silly, heartrending, horrifying, or otherwise memorable that people can’t resist the urge to forward the link to friends or post about it on social media or discuss it with co-workers once they’ve run out of ways to describe the weather. The process is aided and abetted by journalists on the lookout for short, catchy, food-related stories requiring minimal reporting that people can read on their computers while appearing to be working during their brief lunch breaks.
But in the opinion of this bacon-loving journalist (I am of the Vincent Vega school on pork products), Oscar Mayer is playing with fire here. There’s a real risk if its bacon app catches on. People all over the country will be waking up to the smell of bacon, only to discover, like Pavlov’s slobbering dog, that there is actually no bacon—again! Plus, I don’t know about you, but no matter how euphonious the sounds or songs I choose for my morning alarm are, they eventually come to fill me with a combination of panic and hatred. When I used to use a clock radio, I grew to hate the dulcet-voiced NPR morning hosts, every one of them. The sound I eventually settled on for my iPhone alarm is the same adenoidal staccato meep of the digital alarm clock that woke me in high school—it’s a horrible sound and is therefore unspoilable.
Surely there are others like me out there. Does Oscar Mayer want to take the risk that people will associate bacon with being dragged out of their dreams for the morning commute? PETA itself couldn’t think of a more effective way to sour the populace against pork belly. Instead, I would like to propose that Oscar Mayer market an app called Wake Up & Smell the Soy. Every morning at the appointed hour (or, even better, five minutes before the time you set it for), your iPhone will emit the sound of nonhydrogenated vegetable oil in a skillet, along with the bracing, mulch-like tang of tempeh.