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Crispin and Redenbacher Forgot the Story

Posted by: David Kiley on January 29, 2007

Much ink has been spilled in the last week about Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s ad for Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn in which a digitally remastered version of the old boy, who died in 1995, is conjured up.

Ad Age’s Bob Garfield aptly called this the first spokeszombie. I know what happened, of course. The folks at CP+B fell in love with the idea of what was technologically possible. As they started looking into the possibility, some hot shot special effect guys started showing them their stuff. It was meant to be an event, not just an ad. The client thought they were on a great ad ride. But remember all the special effects in Waterworld? “Poseidon”? Remember how uncomfortable it was to watch Courtney Cox in Friends when they put her in the weird fatsuit and fat make-up? Special effects need good execution and good story to work.

I have seen this movie before. Like when Fred Astaire was conjured up to dance with a Dirt Devil vacuum.

But here is where the Redenbacher ad went wrong. First, the digitally remastered Orville doesn’t look very good. It reminds me of the waxworks version of abolitionist John Brown I saw at Harpers Ferry West Virginia when I was a kid. Second: the ad isn’t very interesting. There is this shpeel about Orville talking about his MP3 player, and how his popcorn is lighter and fluffier than ever. Zounds. Zzzzz.

The ad debuted during the Golden Globes, so it had a big audience, and has been written about quite a lot this past week. If it ends up on people’s TiVo’d shows, it may be watched now because it’s so bad, people will say…”Hey…here’s that creepy Orville Redenbacher ad Mabel! Come look.”

“Creepy” and “Orville Redenbacher.” It’s like telling a story about a rat or your kid’s snot in a crowded restaurant. It’s a word association you don’t want.

I commend CP+B for taking their philosophy seriously—creating ad events, not just ads. More than ever, as it becomes easier and easier to skip ads, the industry needs ads that capture attention.

But would it have been so hard to dial in a better, more worthwhile, funnier story for the digital Orville? And if the special effects people couldn’t do better on Orville’s looks, somebody needed to make an executive decision not to go forward.

I thought it was brave and quaint for CP+B to recommend that the company re-run the original ads from the 1970s and 80s on cable TV the last several months. Those got my attention. I confess, I still choose Reddenbacher when confronted at the supermarket with that brand, Paul Newman’s and others. And that’s because good advertising works. I still retain in the recesses of my mind and buying soul an idea that there is something just a little bit better and homey about Reddenbacher popcorn. And that’s because of those ads I saw as a kid.

That is not a legacy to be trifled with for the sake of some poor special effects that now make me think of a waxy abolitionist and rats in the restaurant kitchen instead of a warm bowl of popcorn on a Saturday night in front of my plasma TV.

Reader Comments


January 29, 2007 7:37 PM

Is he really dead... They got me. I was thinking man that guy is really old he has been around forever!!!


January 30, 2007 4:41 PM

I like the new commercial. I think you have to look at it in the spirit of fun that it was intended to have, and stop worrying about "zombies," David.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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