Seattle's Best 'Duncan' Ads an Epic Fail in Media Strategy

Surprise! Online-Only Effort Overshadowed by Taco Bell's Massive TV Campaign

By Published on .

Advertising Age Player
Most Popular

If one of the country's big brands unveils an online-only campaign mocking a competitor using said competitor's name and no one pays attention, does it make a sound?

Yes. A tiny one. A little squeal of frustration that would sound like, "What about me?" But no one's paying attention to that, either.

Not when one of the country's other massive brands did much the same thing, but dropped a few metric tons of cash to run its campaign on fusty old TV and -- how old school is this? -- some extra change on a PR effort.

If you're a little lost, let me explain. If you're in the ad industry -- even if you're not in the ad industry -- by now you've all seen Taco Bell's spots featuring guys named Ronald McDonald talking up Taco Bell's new breakfast menu. You can't escape them. They're on cable. They're on broadcast. They've been written about in every major news outlet.

Well, it turns out that days before Taco Bell's effort broke, Seattle's Best, a company owned by 800-pound coffee gorilla Starbucks, trotted out an online campaign using guys named Duncan singing the praises of its latest blend being sold in grocery aisles. Because Duncan sounds like Dunkin' Donuts. Get it?

How do we know this Seattle's Best campaign broke first? Because the company wrote this on a behind-the-scenes page on the Starbucks website: "The ad, which appeared before a fast-food chain launched a similar commercial, is part of a campaign that found people preferred the new House Blend from Seattle's Best Coffee over a competitor's original blend coffee." (We also know this because … well, let's just say that even farther behind the scenes some folks are wondering why they're not getting their write-ups for their hilarious campaign.)

To quote Barack Obama, "let me be clear." This Ad Review isn't primarily about the actual content and messaging of the Seattle's Best "Duncan" ads, created by Wexley School for Girls.

But let me also be clear: The ad is inferior to the Taco Bell ads. Maybe only by a little bit, but for a good reason. There's no one named Duncan associated with Dunkin' Donuts. In some parts of the country, believe it or not, Duncan and Dunkin' aren't even pronounced the same. So the association is a stretch, a sloppy pun made by that one guy in the office who isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is, the one whose open-mic sets you've avoided for since he started doing stand-up.

Taco Bell's ads aren't gut-busters, but this much can be said: Ronald McDonald is the name of an actual brand mascot used by McDonald's.

As far as claims of originality go, give it up. We noted in the earlier review of Taco Bell's campaign that Jack in the Box used a similar Ronald McDonald (actually, Ronald MacDonald) gag all the way back in 2002. We also noted that consumers across America are very unlikely to remember a decade-old ad for a regional chain.

Just as it's even more unlikely they'll remember a two-day old web-only campaign for a coffee brand that's not even really Starbucks.

There's a lot to be said about the wasteful spending involved with creating 30-second spots and then running them on TV. One can also argue that a PR effort for those 30-second spots has no actual effect on sales of Waffle Tacos.

But even in America in 2014 -- even in the age of Web 3-point-whatever and social-media and consumer-generated this and that -- a real marketing professional (as opposed to a social-media guru) can't honestly expect that, all things being equal, a mildly funny, unoriginal online only campaign stands a snowball's chance in hell against a mildly funny, unoriginal TV campaign.

Not with a straight face, at any rate.