'Bland' Web Effort Is Enough to Make You Lose Your Lunch

Videos That Depict Competitors as Boring and Flavorless Make Chili's Equally Unappetizing

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Some years back, we visited an extraordinary business in a city of 11 million people. This was a Chili's franchise, and it was by far the most popular restaurant in town. On Easter Sunday, the line to get inside wrapped around two corners.

Oh, and this was in Monterrey, Mexico.

Title: P.J. Bland's
Marketer: Chili's
Agency: Hill Holiday
A new multimedia campaign from Chili's aims to highlight its splendida-tude by caricaturing the blandness of the competition.
We swear to God. An American franchise Tex-Mex joint, possibly the most popular eatery in all of Mexico. We shall never forget the impromptu tour given by our host, as we approached the place on the commercial-industrial highway colloquially known as Los Torres, for the high-tension electrical towers paralleling the road.

"Here is McDonald's," the young man said, surveying the vista. "Here is Fuddrucker's. Burger King. Sirloin Stockade. Chili's. It is beautiful. Before, it was just mountains."

Given that sentiment, let's just assume the place was cherished by locals more for its Tex-ness than its Mex-ness. The point is, they really liked the food, and we couldn't fault them. AdReview has always deemed Chili's the most acceptable of the die-cut 'n' extruded casual-dining segment. The fajitas, in our view, are particularly splendida.

Compare that to Applebee's, Ruby Tuesday, Bennigan's, Houlihan's, Perkins or T.G.I. Fridays, which offer -- in our strictly unprofessional opinion -- varying degrees of palatability, irritatingly cheerful wait staffs and far too much Monterrey (!) Jack.

Research apparently led the Chili's people to more or less the same conclusion, because its new multimedia campaign aims to highlight its splendida-tude by caricaturing the blandness of the competition. We are here to tell you that, on the second half of that plan, Chili's -- via Hill Holliday -- has more than succeeded.

The fake casual-dining chain, P.J. Bland's ("Stuff to eat right up the street!"), is well-named.

Should your social-media journeys take you to pjblands.com -- or an embedded video of its founder, or its food stylist or its TV-commercial director -- you'll find the quintessentially unappetizing, generic dining experience. The food, which is stamped out of corrugated cardboard, is all tan, as is the logo and other trade dress. The founder has the charisma of a vice principal. And the corporate mission is quite candid:

"At P.J. Bland's, we believe that if you're hungry enough, you'll eat absolutely anything."

You get the idea. There's plenty more of that, as the agency flogs the joke to oblivion. The videos are conceptually sort of funny (in one, a food stylist for the photo shoots uses a Dremel drill to give the menu items some gloss) but all and all they're pretty tedious. Such as one with the supposed director of photography on a commercial shoot:

Off-camera interviewer: "Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. What are you working on today?"

DP: "Oh, today we're shooting some P.J. Bland's entrees. I do this stuff between features. It's not glamorous, but the money's good."

Interviewer: "Is it challenging to make a P.J. Bland's entree look appetizing? I mean, in the light of day, it looks pretty bland."

DP: "Well, you'd be surprised what we can do with a single light source, a little fill, 65mm lens."

Oh, yeah. LOL. Not only is the production joke inside, it's just plain overwrought and unfunny. But, more broadly, what does this exercise accomplish? The valid point about the bland competition is utterly undermined, and overwhelmed, by the very repulsiveness of the fake brand. Yes, it makes you lose your appetite -- for P.J. Bland's, for T.G.I. Friday's and for Chili's, too.

It's nauseating. Before, it was just fine.

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