Room for Improvement in Post's Nonimprovement Ad

Shredded Wheat Campaign Fails to Live Up to Big Idea

By Published on .

A correction has been made in this column. See below for details.

Progress? You don't have to be a Luddite to understand that the concept is subjective.

Just for instance: Derivatives, credit-default swaps and securitized subprime mortgages seemed to represent progress in financial markets. Today, they are Wall Street's Thalidomide.

Title: Druffel
Marketer: Post Shredded Wheat
Agency: Ogilvy, New York
A new campaign for Post Shredded Wheat pre-emptively grabs the "old and unimproved" positioning out from under everybody.
Harnessing the atom was deemed the ultimate triumph of progress in physics and energy production, before Hiroshima and Chernobyl altered the calculus. Reproductive science has now made it possible for a virgin to give birth to her uncle, which -- among other potential issues -- can make Christmas mighty confusing.

The industrial revolution put tailors, cobblers and smiths of all kinds out of work, just as the digital revolution is fixing to do to you.

Ban-Lon. Napalm. Trans fats. The Hummer. Tek-9. Dear God: Astroturf. What vile abominations man hath wrought!

And these days it's kind of hard not to wonder how in the world we've failed, again and again, to distinguish between "advancement" and "improvement." So what an opportunity for a marketer to claim non-advancement as a selling proposition.

Of such opportunism Big Ideas are made.

And Ogilvy, New York, recognized just that. A new campaign for Post Shredded Wheat pre-emptively grabs the "old and unimproved" positioning out from under everybody. It's a brilliant strategic move drawn from a keen zeitgeist insight. What a shame -- and, as we shall see, what an irony -- that the advertising itself fails to live up to the idea.

Oh, it's not terrible. The multimedia campaign introduces us to faux Post spokesman Frank Druffel, a hard-bitten grumbler who casts suspicion on the gratuitously "advanced."

"Has progress taken us to a better place?" he asks, as he stalks around his office. "I'd say it's taken us for a ride. Honestly, what thanks do we owe progress? We're up to our necks in landfill and down to the wire in resources and climate change is out to get us.

"That's why progress plays no role inside Post Shredded Wheat. Here we put the 'no' in innovation. Post original Shredded Wheat is still just the one, simple, honest ingredient which naturally comes with vitamins, minerals and fiber. All we did was make it spoon-size. Did we go too far?"

The fantastic writing is in italics. The first half of the spot is just blather -- and the :60 is exactly 30 seconds worse, as the character speed-reads the flabby copy to stuff it into the space allotted to it. "Druffel" is just not very good, which has something to do with the performance, but just as much to do with the character he's asked to play. He's too tongue-in-cheek to be taken seriously, and definitely not funny enough to command a following. Wrong choices were made.

Why the silly name? Why the over-the-top delivery? Why create a character in the first place? Here's why: because that's the modern -- or, actually, post-modern -- way of doing things. These days, everybody is self-consciously playing with the form, taking the tired cliches of advertising and retreading them as irony. This is meant to both diminish creative self-loathing and flatter the audience for its sophistication. But when it becomes the default solution, it's just another cliche, isn't it?

This was an idea that could have been realized with a pitch (as in the italicized copy) both wry and sincere. Instead -- and here's that irony we promised -- it defaulted to irony.

Which is modern, all right, but not necessarily progress.

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CORRECTION: In an earlier version, the box in this column identified the agency as Ogilvy, Toronto. The campaign came out of Ogilvy's New York office.

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