Kraft tastefully takes spot at family table

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Advertiser: Kraft Foods
Agency: J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago
Ad Review rating: Three and 1/2 stars

Cheez whiz. Grape-Nuts. Shake 'n Bake. Dream Whip.

No, that's not an excerpt from the Starr report. It's a small sampling of the many food and somewhat-foodlike products of Kraft, formerly Kraft General Foods, which is to your supermarket what Monica Lewinsky is to your newsstand.

Kraft makes Philadelphia cream cheese, Maxwell House coffee, Parkay margarine and basically everything else, including the incomparable Velveeta pasteurized cheese loaf, the best-selling pasteurized cheese loaf on God's green earth, with a cherished place on your (and, we're pretty sure, the periodic) table.

The truth is, by virtue of their sheer size and market share, Kraft products really are an important part of our lives. What this suggests about the culture may be disturbing, but there are an undeniable bond and a genuine emotional link to these brands--a link Kraft wishes to codify and embrace beneath the corporate umbrella.

The means is a beautiful new campaign from J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago, employing documentary footage of real families to demonstrate Kraft's indispensable place in the American household, and--by extension--its understanding of our values, our traditions and our human needs.

The first three spots are remarkably understated, yet extraordinarily powerful iterations of the family ethic. One shows an apparently single mom shopping with her teen-age sons, another a nuclear family of seven and the last an extended-family get-together. There's no narration, just interview bites and mundane action atop an engaging musical bed of New Age Irish fiddle.

"Everybody needs to connect as a family," says the grandma to end the extended-family spot. "Just a simple thing as making dinner. Everybody gets a little bit of attention--which I don't mind giving; I like that."

Then, following a sequence of charming, stylized logo cards of familiar Kraft labels, the voice-over: "Kraft Foods. We make it taste good, but you make it feel good. Food brings us together. Let's make something good."

That is the only explicit mention of the advertiser. Director Jonathan Darby bravely refuses to compromise the documentary feel with lingering close-ups of the packages. Oh, we see them, briefly, but they don't dominate the frame, nor the action. Hell, they aren't even in focus. They are simply part of the meal-preparation environment.

Does this make the packages less conspicuous? No--clients out there, are you paying attention?--it makes them more conspicuous. The glancing exposure invites strict viewer attention, much like the minor thrill we get at a movie (or used to get, before product placement turned Hollywood into QVC) when a familiar brand shows up. And the camera's apparent indifference reinforces the naturalness of the scene.

It may seem small, even counter-intuitive, yet such modest exhibits of directorial and advertiser restraint can make all the difference. Certainly in this campaign, which labors to document Kraft's calm and knowing presence, the clumsy prominence of any single product label would have undercut the entire message. We can only hope that subsequent spots, planned to have more of a product focus, are equally true to the campaign's self-effacing conceit.

How far we've come since Ed Herlihy interrupted the "Kraft Music Hall" with the least appetizing combinations of Kraft products in the most revolting descriptions ever televised--at least, until last weekend.M1

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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