Rant of the Week

Ketchup Collusion


Heinz recently held a bit of a pageant.  They were looking for a new advertising agency.  They already hold about 46% of the ketchup market, but they wanted more. 

Maybe they saw the khaki ads for The Gap on TV and thought, "Hey!   They're cool!  They're hip!  We want to be cool and hip.  Are we cool and hip?  I don't think so.  Let's find someone to help us be cool and hip."

The two finalists were Leo Burnett Co. and TBWA Chiat/Day.  Chiat/Day is famous for some weird new office concept they introduced a couple of years ago: nobody would have a desk or a computer or an office.  Everyone would just wander around until he or she found a nice place to work.  You could borrow a computer from the front desk.  You could sit in a portable cubicle if you had a private meeting.  You could haul your files around in a little red wagon.   It didn't work.

The Burnett Co. created the famous "Anticipation" ads for Heinz many years ago-- you know-- showing ketchup slowly dripping from the bottle while playing the Carly Simon song.

Anyway, the Leo Burnett Co. must have been watching those khaki ads too.  They won the contract.  How did they do it?

They met with teenagers at restaurants and tried to figure out what the "essence" of ketchup was to these kids.  They asked, "if ketchup was a TV character, who would it be?"   The answer: the Fonz.

Ah!  Oh!  Now we understand!   Unfortunately, when asked if ketchup was important to them, most teenagers said, "nah".

What!  Ketchup is not important to you!  Egad!   Outrageous!  How can we remedy this state of misguided culinary atrophy?

A Beavis and Butthead spoof?  Passť.

The solution was to give ketchup "a personality".  To give it a hip, iconic personae, that can withstand the rigors of adolescent ironic detachment.  "Even ketchup advertising can be edgy" chirps Newsweek.

Heinz wasn't sure.  They called in a consultant named Gary Stibel.  "Yes, ketchup advertising can be edgy.  Here's my bill."

Burnett won the contract.  Their ads will "focus on teens' desire for control by showing ketchup smothering fries 'until they can't breath' and highlighting its ability to make food taste 'ketchuppy' ".   The ads "avoid traditional product-touting or slogans, which might turn off media-savvy teens". 

Ketchup is a good product.  I like it on my fries and hamburger.  And Heinz makes the best ketchup-- check out the number of restaurants that buy a cheaper brand and then pour it into Heinz bottles.  Heinz thinks I should put ketchup on my pizza and grilled-cheese sandwiches.  Right. 

And they think they are pretty smart. They think they can manipulate teenagers by being iconic.  They think they can fool us by deconstructing their own motivations: we are not here to sell you a product.  We are here to sell you an image.  You're sitting there at a table in a restaurant with your friends.  You're worried about whether or not your friends like you.  Do they find you sophisticated enough?  Do they find you sufficiently ironic and detached?   Are they convinced that you cannot be manipulated or deceived by adults?  

You reach for the ketchup.  You're cool. 

Copyright © 1999 Bill Van Dyk  All rights reserved.



All Contents Copyright © Bill Van Dyk
 1999 All Rights Reserved