Kraft Easy Mac spot a silent-movie gem

There are ads that knock you sideways right from the start. And then there are ads that, like we hear about the girl next door (we actually never lived next door to her), you see every day and then one day...

There are ads that knock you sideways right from the start. And then there are ads that, like we hear about the girl next door (we actually never lived next door to her), you see every day and then one day realize is really quite attractive.

Every time I see it, I like the Kraft Dinner Easy Mac spot better. It’s the one where the guy comes home, throws the door open, and announces Cheryl, you’ll never guess what I found at the super- and he stops.

Because the apartment has been stripped. Everything’s gone. Cheryl’s gone. And the strange thing about it all is the guy doesn’t seem so surprised. Or sorry. But what he is, is hungry. And from this point on, everything that goes through his mind is telegraphed via his body English, and it’s quite a performance.

Alone in the empty flat, he opens a kitchen cupboard to find a bowl for the Kraft Dinner. Empty. He glances down at a wretched little dog who’s been left behind too, and sees the dog’s water dish. Good enough!

Quick as a wink, he’s made the dinner in the dog’s dish in the microwave oven. Now he needs something to eat it with. Hey, what luck! There’s a torn-in-half snapshot of our hero pinned to the kitchen bulletin board with a fork planted right between his eyes! Pluck it out and yum, dinner for one is served!

If anyone’s got a problem with this little almost-silent-movie gem, it could be that it appears to contravene one of our Immutable Rules of Advertising, namely never portray your customer as a schnook.

But does it? I don’t think so. The woman who left hates his guts (that fork!) and she may think he’s a jerk, but we don’t know for sure. She didn’t say. All we see him do is a guy-down-on-his-luck-struggling-for-survival bit that could be right out of a Charlie Chaplin or a Buster Keaton silent, and we feel kind of sorry for the poor guy. Don’t put that 20-pound head in the oven! kind of sorry. We hope he’ll eventually meet somebody nice and start buying the larger package again, OK? It’s lovely work.

I also realize how much I like those CTV station break things where the stars of Ally McBeal and The West Wing and Law & Order and ER peer out at us and do something quirky with the little balls with C-T-V on them. I especially like when Martin Sheen as the President of the United States spins the C ball like it was the planet Earth. And I’m sure Calista Flockhart is doing something, oh, G-spot-related when she sort of pokes the thing and does that oo-la-la face.

It’s nice that they remind us how much we like their shows in just one, wordless micro-moment, instead of just showing us a five-second clip from a rerun. A very smooth way of branding the CTV product, too. (But I still haven’t forgiven them for firing Avery!)

And speaking of branding, and who isn’t, those of us who can remember when it was kind of neat to just do great advertising still go on and on about The Great Volkswagen Beetle Ads of Yesteryear, and how they were like The Great Volkswagen Beetle Ads of This Year Only Different.

But have you noticed that even non-Beetle VW ads are pushing the envelope these days? You’ve got to like the sly, ad-person wit demonstrated in the double-page magazine spread for The Passat.

On the right hand page, a slightly fuzzy, seen-from-above photo of the car storming along against a field of even fuzzier asphalt. On the left hand page, where the Art Director would normally put the boffo headline and a couple of hundred well-chosen words of copy in nice large sans-serif, is…nothing. Just asphalt, man!

Only it’s like somebody took an X-acto knife and cut out the paragraph of teeny-tiny legal boilerplate mouse-type from the bottom of the ad and plonked it down in the middle of the empty page of asphalt.

This little block of copy says: 2000 Passat GLS shown. MSRP $29,100. Price excludes taxes, registration, transportation, options and dealer charges. Dealer sets actual price. But it’ll probably be pretty close to $29,100. And because no one reads advertising anymore, no one but you will know that’s all you paid. It’ll be our little secret.

Now that’s kind of ironic. Forty-five years ago, Volkswagen was getting famous by sending up the pretensions of bombastic, overblown advertising. Now, they’re doing it by sending up the posturings of the new generation of self-styled Brand Engineers who claim to disdain words and pictures as tools of persuasion. It’s an ad, kids. It’s just a good ad, so maybe you didn’t notice.

Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He writes this column to promote the cause of what he calls intelligent advertising, and to attract clients who share the notion that many a truth is said in jest. Barry can be reached at (416) 924-5533, or faxed at (416) 960-5255, at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group