Little Lad Produces Big Laughs in Genius Masterfoods Spot

Post-Modern Advertising at Its Best

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AdReview knows what it knows. For instance: that most advertising is ordinary and a lot of it dreadful. And that skewed creative values esteem punch lines and spectacle over salesmanship. And that the agency business is on a collision course with doom.

But that's not all AdReview knows. There's also that other thing. That, uh, genius thing.

We can preach all we want about communications discipline and about the tragic paucity of information and persuasion. It just doesn't account for advertising's magical ingredient: the right brain. Not just the right hemisphere, but the right hemisphere of the right person, whence every so often emerges utterly unexpected, nonlinear problem-solving and originality -- the kind of ad you watch and laugh and grab your head in your hands and blurt out aloud: "Where the [bad word] did that come from?!"

Yeah, well, welcome to TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, and the Masterfoods creative group, your WTFDTCF?! headquarters.

Charged with flogging Skittles, Combos and Starburst to young males, this team has come up with one inconceivable and perfect premise after another. Whether it's a job applicant feeding himself Skittles with his prehensile, ZZ Top-like beard; or a burly "mom" snatching cheese-filled Combos from her kid; or (our absolute favorite) a scrawny white American teen posing as Rasta Jamaican to dramatize Starburst's new Tropical Fruit flavor, the spots combine over-the-top conceits with exquisitely delicate, understated acting and direction.

And though they trade on absurdity, they also adhere to their own goofy internal logic.

Consider their latest creation: the Little Lad, a slightly effeminate English adult with high-button shoes, pageboy wig, Fauntleroy suit and intermittent falsetto. In a 30-second spot that is now a YouTube favorite, he approaches two young guys at a bus station and goes ecstatic about Starburst's new Berries and Cr�me fruit chew. He then does a semi-spastic Little Lad dance as he squeals "Berries and cream, berries and cream! I'm a little lad who loves berries and cream!"

And why is an elfin Dickens character dancing in a bus station? Because, duh, who eats berries and cream? Nineteenth-century English boys.

Why is "Tashi" wearing a dreadlocks wig? To give himself some tropical flavor in order to score with vacationing American women.

Why do two factory workers sink their arms into industrial acid, instantly dissolving their limbs? Because one of them dropped a pack of Starburst in there. The brilliance here, though, isn't the gag, per se. It's the Masterfoods parallel universe in which they materialize.

If "Factory" were a Bud Light commercial, the guys would be yelping in panic about losing their beer and then -- in a three-second kicker -- their arms. But in Masterfoods World, the only reaction is a hint of puzzlement. There is always a slight reaction (in Little Lad, one of the normal guys rears his head back almost imperceptibly), but nobody is ever fazed. Bud Light slapstick is often funny. Starburst wryness is breathtaking.

Heather: Tashi, I'm so glad I met you this week. Your island culture's amazing! Even these juicy tropical candies!

Tashi [totally deadpan]: Heather, I have a confession. These are those new Tropical Starburst. You can buy them anywhere.

Heather: Is there anything else you want to tell me, Tashi?

Tashi: No, that's pretty much it.


Yes, that's pretty much it, but it's a lot. When characters in a patently preposterous situation can accept it at face value, they can also explicitly talk about chewy juiciness without sounded stilted -- because unreality is part of the joke. That is post-modern advertising at its best. WTFDTCF?

TBWA.

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