Revenge of the curds

There are no barbecued rats or naked fat guys, and nobody gets voted off of anything. But in its own way, a new television campaign for Montreal-based Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) taps the same enthusiasm for 'reality TV' as the...

There are no barbecued rats or naked fat guys, and nobody gets voted off of anything. But in its own way, a new television campaign for Montreal-based Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) taps the same enthusiasm for ‘reality TV’ as the hit show Survivor.

The two ‘Say Cheese’ spots – the first in what the organization is hoping will be a long-running series – feature ordinary people reacting spontaneously to candid camera-style setups.

The campaign is one of two from Dairy Farmers of Canada that broke during the Olympic Games. The other, geared specifically to francophone consumers, isn’t quite so unconventional – but in its own quiet way, it also represents something of a departure for the organization.

‘We wanted to do stuff that would get people talking,’ explains Jo-Ann Munro, creative group head with Montreal-based Cossette Communication-Marketing, agency of record for DFC.

Traditionally, Dairy Farmers of Canada – a federation representing some 21,500 producers of milk products – has taken a conservative approach to its ads promoting cheese consumption, says director of marketing Ian MacDonald. But the organization felt it was time to take the creative shackles off its agency, and aim for something a little more ‘breakthrough.’

The candid camera concept grabbed their imaginations from the moment the agency brought it forward. ‘We knew there was some risk, because you could shoot for 10 days and not get anything – or people could dump all over your product,’ MacDonald says. ‘But we saw that it could be dynamic and fun. And something we could build on over time.’

The spots are intended to demonstrate the sheer irresistibility of cheese. One is set in a diner, where a young woman orders the grilled cheese sandwich special. The counterman (actually an actor) serves it up, and then – to her open-mouthed astonishment – grabs it back and steals a bite from one half. When he reaches out for the other half, she yanks it quickly away.

In the other spot, a woman (again, a professional actor) stands at a supermarket sampling booth with a tray full of cheddar cheese cubes. Instead of offering the cheese to customers, however, she guards it zealously for herself, pulling the tray out of one person’s reach, and slapping another’s hand away. One passerby with exceptionally good reflexes does finally succeed in scoring a cube of white cheddar, much to the woman’s dismay.

Both ads conclude with the actors pointing out the hidden camera to their victims, and inviting them to ‘say cheese.’

MacDonald says the strength of the creative lies in the unrehearsed reactions of the unwitting participants, and in the way the candid camera concept meshes neatly with the campaign’s ‘Say Cheese’ tagline. The use of real-world settings also means that there’s a lot going on in the spots, which tends to reduce the wear-out factor.

Munro, for her part, says the current popularity of reality TV was a factor in the creative team’s considerations during the development stages. ‘We’re not reinventing the wheel; the [hidden camera] idea is one that’s been out there a while. But it’s hot right now. People enjoy seeing real people on TV – people like themselves.’

The agency spent a full day shooting footage for each of the ads. While the basic concept is simple, the logistical challenges were quite considerable – from finding locations and preparing the hidden camera setups, to corralling people after they’d been captured on videotape and persuading them to sign releases.

‘When we came up with the idea we thought we’d be able to churn them out like crazy,’ Munro says. ‘But it’s not that simple. There’s a lot involved, a lot of people behind the scenes – literally.’

The two spots will run through much of the fall, and more are expected to hit the airwaves before Christmas.

In addition to the ‘Say Cheese’ campaign, which is running nationally, Cossette has developed a second series of ads exclusively for the French-language market.

DFC doesn’t normally produce Quebec-only creative, mainly because of budgetary restraints. But the same thinking that resulted in the candid camera ads – namely, a desire to do more standout work – led the organization to break with this tradition.

Quebecers tend to be much more passionate about food than their counterparts in the rest of Canada, MacDonald says – and they take real pride in some of the regional varieties of cheese produced in the province. The ads play to these emotions. Filmed in the picturesque Iles-de-la-Madeleine and Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean regions, they spotlight local cheeses and the people who produce them.

‘The way the industry has developed here in Quebec, there’s a large number of what I’d call cottage manufacturers,’ MacDonald says. ‘They produce cheeses that are very specific to certain regions. That doesn’t exist in English Canada to the same extent. So there are some local and regional loyalties within the market here that we can play upon.’

‘There’s a real pride,’ Munro affirms. ‘We shot in Iles-de-la-Madeleine with a guy who makes cheese there, and he’s so proud of it – he asked us, ‘How many do you need for the shoot? Because I only make so much and I don’t want it wasted. Whatever you don’t use I want back.”

The tagline is ‘Les fromages de chez nous. Goutez la beaute d’ici.’ (That translates roughly as: ‘Quebec cheeses. Taste the beauty of home.’) Two ads have been aired so far, and a third is now in the works. The imagery has a cinematic lustre, thanks in no small part to director François Girard, the Canadian filmmaker responsible for The Red Violin and Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.

Like the ‘Say Cheese’ campaign, the ‘Goutez la beaute d’ici’ concept is one that Dairy Farmers of Canada is hoping will have long-term potential.

MacDonald says both campaigns signify a new willingness on the part of DFC to experiment with its advertising strategy. ‘This is a bit of a test year in terms of exploring new avenues,’ he says. ‘But I’m comfortable that these options will work. In a year’s time, we’ll all be a little smarter.’

Also in this report:

- Home Depot leaves well enough alone: Retailer’s Quebec foray follows the same strategy that has worked elsewhere in Canada p.21

- Branchez-Vous! links brand with the Net p.22

- Spokestoon makes noise for Rogers AT&T: Street-smart character helps build awareness in ultra-competitive wireless market p.23