Return of the Popcorn-Shilling Zombie

Why the Remastering of Orville Redenbacher Is so Wrong

By Published on .

No! No! No! Make it go away! You're watching the Golden Globes when, suddenly, right there on your TV screen, comes a visitation from ... from ... from ... the walking dead! Arrgggghhhh!!!!

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How Not to Sell Popcorn 101 How creepy. How gruesome. How utterly horrifying.

Then Joan Rivers finally shuts up and things get even worse.

Orville ad
Because when the commercial break comes, there's an ad -- a brand-new ad -- for Orville Redenbacher popcorn, featuring the founder himself. This was a bit of a casting coup, as Redenbacher died in 1995 -- although apparently not of anything serious. Otherwise, how could he be standing there -- in his trademark horn-rims, vest and bow tie-pitching from the Great Beyond?

"These MP3 players get lighter every day," he says, in a geriatric cracker-barrel twang. "Would you believe this little baby holds 30 gigs? But if you want light and fluffy, you've got to try my famous gourmet popping corn."

Yes, Orville Redenbacher is Madison Avenue's first pitchzombie, plodding clumsily forward, not quite dead and not quite alive, like Ashwatthama, of Hindu mythology; Drekavak, the Slavic precursor of Count Dracula; and the Bush administration. At this morbid development, we are surprised not in the least.

For more than a decade, advertisers have been lifting film images of entertainers and digitally compositing them onto contemporary ads. Bogie and Satchmo seemed to promote Diet Coke; Fred Astaire danced with a Dirt Devil. Even Fred and Ethel Mertz become posthumous shills for Medicare Part D coverage. It was only a matter of time before someone contrived to digitally reanimate from scratch.

Which is exactly what we said more than two years ago, when Wendy's took to including the late Dave Thomas' photo in its signage.

The Ghost of Burgers Past
"Can it be long before the Ghost of Burgers Past returns, walking and talking, to restore Wendy's soul?"

OK. Right cemetery, wrong grave. We missed the precise corpse, but there was a grim inevitability to the whole exercise. First of all, in the past couple of years, Big Boss spokesmen have had a rough go of it. Pete Coors got pinched for DUI. Dr. Z flopped for Chrysler. And Bill Ford told the world about the bright Ford future only to draw attention to the miserable Ford present. Even the legendary Lee Iacocca made an ass of himself pitching his old company in a bizarre pairing with Jason Alexander.

See the pattern? Those men all have something in common, something that must have contributed to their various spectacular failures. Yes, that's right.

They're alive.

Why torture those poor bastards when some lucky stiff can do a better job without even, you know, respiring?

Wrong on three levels
The problem is, the stunt is wrong on at least three levels. It's not only a bit grotesque for the audience but also unforgivably disrespectful of the deceased. It's also not all that well done. Yes, Orville looks marginally more lifelike than the technically undeceased Peter Graves in his spot for Geico, but for all the time and money Crispin Porter& Bogusky spent e-resurrecting Orville, he still looks more like an animatronic Epcot exhibit than a live human being. The lipsyncing is awkward, and (for those of us old enough to remember) the voice is all wrong. For those of us not old enough to remember, it just looks like an ultracheesy commercial with a creepy nerd puppet.

Then there's that unbelievably lame opening digression about MP3 players. We're assuming this drivel was meant to embrace the tactic used by kidnappers, who photograph hostages holding the day's newspaper to establish a time frame. Orville's iPod buds prove this is not just some vintage ad footage digitally remastered.

They needn't have worried.

No commercial from those days was this drop-dead bad.

~ ~ ~
Review: one star
Ad: Orville Redenbacher
Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky
Location: Miami

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