Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Friday, March 18, 2005

"Uncomfortable?" Well, yeah, at least in one instance.

This has been bugging me for a while now, and since I officially have run out of every other topic, I'll talk about this.

"This" being the commercials that have been running for a while for Mrs. Paul's/Van de Kamp's frozen fish.

There are two different commercials--one that has a big ugly pike or muskie or something sitting on a playground swing and a little girl reaches out to touch it, but her mother hurriedly grabs her arm and runs away, and then another when the fish is in a racquetball court and a group of players are standing there looking at it with unease. The "hook" in each? The phrase, "Uncomfortable around fish?"

Apparently, the good folks who make fish sticks and other breaded, fried, and flash-frozen fishpart foodstuffs have the answer for you in the form of delicious Mrs. Paul's and Van de Kamp's products.

The thing that has bothered me since seeing it is not the ugly fish, nor its inexplicable presence in non-aquatic venues, nor the illogical reactions shared by those who see the fish; it's the whole idea of anyone being "uncomfortable" around fish.

Who's uncomfortable around fish?!

I mean, it's not like they're monkeys or anything! And granted, if they had a habit of somehow managing to come up out of the water and sit on swingsets like some gill-breathing child molester, well, yeah, that might be uncomfortable. But otherwise, I'm just not seeing it.

AND THEN, even if we do decide that, by golly, YES, fish DOES make me uncomfortable, why would I be calmed that someone like Mrs. Paul has stepped in to save me my uncomfort? I mean, who's SHE to protect me?! I'd want that dreamy Gorton's guy--you figure he's strong enough to handle any sudden moves the fish might make toward my jugular.

I think if fish were following me around and making me feel all uncomfortable, I'd want them put into prison, not eat them. AND YET, these VERY SAME fish that are making me so uncomfortable are now on my PLATE!?

I went looking around for information on the whole deal (but not a lot, because that's almost like doing work), and from what little bit I read, more than a few people are off-put by the commercials--some because they are too stupid to know that it's NOT a REAL fish, and is NOT gasping for air. Those people think it's cruel to fish to exploit them by showing them as they perform their death-rattle. Hey, if fish make me uncomfortable, I might LIKE to see them like that! Others think it's odd and creepy, but that's somehow part of the charm. "Yes, fish DO make me uncomfortable, and I LIKE IT!"

Now THAT makes me uncomfortable!

Still, in the tiny amount of research I did, no one ever hit on what seems to me to be so obviously wrong--WHO IS UNCOMFORTABLE AROUND FISH!?

Then, I saw the link to the PR puff piece on the ads. (link in PDF) And we DO finally find out WHO! The article is so densely full of Advertese that it begs to be made to feel uncomfortable. SO, here we go:

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Stuart Elliot's In Advertising

Offbeat Ads Aim to Warm Up Frozen Fish

An offbeat new campaign for two venerable brands of frozen fish is hoping to get consumers to make like Fats Waller and proclaim, "I want some seafood, mama."

Okay, let's stop the bus right here. Fats Waller!? Smack me if I'm wrong, but I think we're shooting at the wrong demo right off the bat, here, but that might just be me.

Alright, crank 'er back up...

The campaign, now under way, uses oddball humor to promote the Mrs. Paul's and Van de Kamp's seafood brands, which were recently acquired by the Pinnacle Foods Corporation, also the owner of familiar pantry names like Duncan Hines, Lender's, Swanson and Vlasic. The campaign, composed of television commercials, has a budget estimated at $15 million, much more than had been spent on the brands under their previous owner, Aurora Foods.

"Oddball humor," eh? Well, then, I suppose that's why it's not funny. Although the idea of spending $15,000,000 on it is rather amusing.

The star of the commercials, created by Foote Cone & Belding in New York, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is an oversized fish that incongruously turns up on dry land ? literally, a fish out of water.


The goal is to help persuade the target audience, women ages 25 to 49, that they can "Get comfortable with fish" by serving their families Mrs. Paul's or Van de Kamp's varieties like fish sticks and fish fillets.

Okay, here's the deal. Women--in general--do not truly appreciate offbeat humor. Three Stooges, Monty Python, Benny Hill, Mr. Bean, Jackass, C-SPAN--they all have an X-Y dominated fan base. Trying to reach young moms with that type of humor might not be the best route to take, but again, that's just me.

although, they might have decided to dial back the offbeatness in an attempt to better suit what they think the gals might like; thus explaining why the commercials are, in fact, not funny.

The campaign is indicative of efforts by purveyors of prosaic products to enliven their pitches with entertaining approaches intended to gain attention from busy, jaded consumers. The strategy represents a major departure from the days when packaged foods were sold with ads depicting smiling children gobbling up meals served by dutiful mothers.


Of course, you might think that if consumers liked your product, or there was something about it that set it apart in the marketplace, like say--and I'm just guessin' here--maybe better quality, and better value than your competitors, it might not matter so much if there were icky smiling children in the ad or not.

"That's exactly what we didn't want, because it's so easy to forget and ignore," says Dianne Jacobs, executive vice president and general manager at the frozen foods division of Pinnacle in Mountain Lakes, N.J.

Oh. Well, then, my apologies for having missed what is so blindingly obvious.

"We're trying to energize these brands, and quickly," she adds. "It's like a shock treatment to the system, if you will."

If you will.

In that case, I wonder if Mrs. Paul's/Van de Kamp's would be willing to explore my idea for fish sticks made out of electric eels. (They glow in the dark, you know!) The kids LOVE 'em!

The unusual brand mascot, actually a four-foot-long puppet, "is fresh and has high talk value," Ms. Jacobs says. "You've never seen it before."

Sister, there's a lot of things I've never seen before, but that don't mean I want to.

Although the freshness and high talk value intrigue me greatly!

Not really.

"It's the kind of creative that's getting our salespeople calling us," she adds. "A lot of them like it; some of them are confused by it. But our model is to break out of the mold."

Yes, I bet that kind of creative would get salespeople to call.

In any event, I believe it's probably not a good idea to mention "mold" and "fish" in the same article.

(Interesting bit of double-speak as well--if you define model as 'a standard of conformity,' and mold as 'a standard of conformity,' you wind up trying to break out of and into the same thing simultaneously.)

But I digress, which makes me uncomfortable.

Ms. Jacobs likened the campaign to the nontraditional work produced by Foote Cone for the Swanson Hungry-Man line of frozen dinners, which carries the theme "It's good to be full." In those commercials, men who have not eaten the hefty Hungry-Man meals are blown away by breezes while their counterparts who dine on Hungry-Man are satiated in satisfying fashion.

Okay, I'll buy the concept for Hungry-Man--because I understand what it means when someone says "it's good to be full"! I don't understand uncomfortability around fish, aside from any sort of psychological piscaphobia. And you have to remember, Hungry-Man dinners and their hip edgy offbeat humor are marketed to...hungry men. Men. Men who appreciate a good Stoogesque sight gag; and eating like pigs.

"It's very different for the food category," Ms. Jacobs says, which is "very predictable," but typical advertising for Mrs. Paul's and Van de Kamp's will not "get these brands back on track."

Could that be because there's nothing inherently better about one brand of packaged fishparts than another? Or perhaps, nothing better about YOUR brand?

In the initial commercials that begin the campaign, each 15 seconds long, the fish is found on a playground and on a racquetball court. Spectators are agog. Some even seem fearful or aghast, in a comically exaggerated way.

"Uncomfortable around fish?" asks an announcer, who then suggests trying Mrs. Paul's or Van de Kamp's fish sticks or fillets, which, he says, are "perfectly prepared." The announcer concludes with the "Get comfortable with fish" theme.

Who is uncomfortable around fish?! I'm sorry to keep asking the question, but I want to know. And is it just me, or is there something a bit lurid about "getting comfortable with fish." I half expect to hear, "slip into something more comfortable."

Which makes me uncomfortable.

"We've identified an insight into the consumer, which is a blinding glimpse of the obvious: People are still uncomfortable about making fish," says Mel Sokotch, executive vice president and group management director at Foote Cone. "They think fish is delicate and takes skill and know-how."

Maybe if you're trying to fix fugu, but heaven help me--WE'RE TALKING ABOUT FRIGGIN' FISH STICKS! WHO IS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THAT!? Sorry, but it was all that light from the blindingly obviosity going on around here.

"The idea is to leverage the insight," he adds, by saying that while "people are uncomfortable around fish, with Mrs. Paul's and Van de Kamp's, you don't have to be."

BUT WHY!? Do they do something with chains and stun guns to make sure the fish doesn't make me uncomfortable!?

And what is does "leverage the insight" have to do with anything?

The creative team on the campaign, it turns out, is the same as for Hungry-Man: Gerald Cuesta, a copywriter, and Howard Ronay, an art director; both are senior vice presidents and associate creative directors at Foote Cone.

"The creative challenge," Mr. Cuesta says, was to "take the problem" of how consumers perceive fish and "solve it in a way that breaks the clutter" rather than echoing a conventional approach like presenting "some guy in a rain slicker telling you about the catch of the day."

Well, if it's a choice between someone who doesn't think fish makes them uncomfortable and someone that does, I think I'll go with the guy in the slicker.

The idea the team came up with was that "fish are funny," Mr. Cuesta says, citing "the Monty Python sketch about two guys slapping each other in the face with fish."

WELL, IF THAT'S YOUR IDEA, THEN SAY THAT FISH ARE FUNNY! Don't sit there and say they're both funny AND MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE! And ONCE MORE women--THE TARGET AUDIENCE--don't usually see the humor in the Fish Slapping Dance.

For the record, I will say that I am in wholehearted agreement that fish are funny.

"And because of Hungry-Man being so successful, the client was more open to trying humor in this category," he adds, "especially because no one was doing it."

First of all, we have this whole apples and barracudas things--just because it worked on one campaign DOESN'T MEAN IT'LL WORK FOR ANOTHER!

Second, it could be the reason no one was doing it was because it's A STUPID IDEA.

"Putting the fish into places where it shouldn't be, where it maybe would make people feel uncomfortable, is humor that hits the truth," Mr. Cuesta says, "and it's paid off at the end with a plate of Mrs. Paul's or Van de Kamp's food looking its best, saying, 'We prepare it for you the right way, so come on in.' "

Look. What (apparently) makes people feel uncomfortable about fish (as opposed to fish stix, the product you're actually trying to move) isn't that they show up in unexpected places. It's NOT humor, and it DOESN'T "hit the truth"!

And hasn't your mother ever told you not to put fish in places where it shouldn't be!? You'll go blind, you know.

The last line is nice, though. It says, "we can cook good fish, so you should buy it and eat it because it's easy to prepare and tastes great."

Then you can show a dutiful wife slapping her smiling husband and children with a fish.

The fun fish, created by a company in Toronto that specializes in puppets, is "largely a large-mouth bass and a redfish," Mr. Cuesta says, "blown up a bit in postproduction" to appear larger than it is and "operated with wires and cables."


Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Large-mouth Bass.
Image hosted by Photobucket.com

If you think the fish in the article looks anything like either of those two, you need to talk to someone.

The commercials are running on broadcast and cable networks as well as during syndicated shows in local markets.

Ms. Jacobs says she is optimistic that the campaign, along with improvements that include redesigned packages and added product varieties, "will yield a very good response," citing the experience of the Hungry-Man spots, which brought positive reaction "in the first week" and "sales up 50 percent in the first two years."

As a result, "we're going to stick with" the fish out of water, she adds, with plans "early next year to shoot at least two additional spots having the fish appear in unlikely situations."

Oh boy. Yippee.

But wait.

It gets better.

Mr. Sokotch says the agency executives "want to do one in a sauna, with a bunch of men in towels and the fish."

Hmmmm. The perfect way to introduce a line of frozen steamed fish?

Oh, yes.

Simply perfect.

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