Heinz aims smart spots at brilliantly stupid kids

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Marketer:H.J. Heinz Co.
Agency: Leo Burnett Co., Chicago
Ad Review rating: Four stars

Children, as we all know, are stupid. Even smart children are stupid. We ourselves are the proud parents/paymasters/transportation consultants of two extremely smart, extremely stupid children who regularly demonstrate the common sense of yeast.

For instance, small children don't like to go to sleep. How dumb is that? As for teen-agers, don't get us started. (Ask us sometime about the National Merit Scholar and Garage Attic episode. It's world-class.)

This smart/stupid paradox manifests in many ways, and a big one is dietary. It's mindboggling what children won't eat, and what they will. It is no coincidence, for example, that children are by orders of magnitude the heaviest users of ketchup.

We are not here to slander ketchup; it is a perfectly respectable condiment. To watch the way kids consume it, however, you'd think it was the Elixir of Life. They will put it on anything, converting any given foodstuff to what is functionally a KTM (ketchup-transference medium).

This is stupid, because a) it obliterates the taste of real food, which, b) no matter what the Reagan administration claimed, ketchup isn't.

Nonetheless, given how indiscriminately kids use the stuff, H.J. Heinz Co. has decided to cultivate that market still further. The result is a witty, unexpected and most refreshing global campaign from Leo Burnett Co. that discards all the silly old cliches of the genre in favor of savagely funny observations of ketchupness.

"Heinz tomato ketchup allows you to make food taste however you want it to taste," says the young, male, decidedly unannouncerlike voice-over, atop spare, static shots of a hamburger on a plate. "Two popular options are ketchuppy . . . and even more ketchuppy."

At this, a hand comes into the frame and presses down on bun, squeezing an obscene quantity of ketchup down the sides of the burger. Then, onscreen and in voice-over, the tagline: "Heinz tomato ketchup. Makes food ketchuppy . . . to various degrees."

It is a tagline, of course, that totally flips the bird at all other taglines, by simply reiterating the absurd observation in the body copy. All of the five spots do the same, hilarious thing. One shows an empty Heinz bottle with ketchup residue clinging to the insides.

"Some of the Heinz tomato ketchup never comes out. It just stays stuck in there and we can only look at it. This part of the ketchup will never be completely understood. This part of the ketchup has issues."

Then the tag: "Heinz tomato ketchup. Some of it has issues."

Maybe the best of the lot shows a ketchup bottle poised over a burger, its contents stubbornly refusing to pour out.

"Heinz tomato ketchup doesn't mean to keep you waiting. It's not trying to be rude. But let's face it: It is rude."

The tag: "Heinz tomato ketchup. The rude ketchup."

The rude ketchup? It's brilliant, certain to delight the target audience that places such a premium on irreverence. Unlike other postmodern, advertising-aware ad campaigns, which tend to be more smart-alecky than clever, this one is at least as much about the product as it is about the worldview of the audience. It's hip, yes. But it's also very smart.

So there's the paradox again. Smart advertising aimed at bright, media savvy, sophisticated young people so dumb they believe in one-stop-shopping for the palate.

The Heinz ketchup campaign: smart advertising aimed at bright young people so dumb they believe in one-stop-shopping for the palate.

Copyright May 1999, Crain Communications Inc. ;

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