Spam tries for canned kitsch, ends up with ham-fisted insult

By Published on .

Adult diapers.



Which of the above terms cannot be depended on to make most people smile? Answer: D) Carrot Top. Could somebody please take that simpering idiot off of my TV? Please?

The other three, on the grounds of grossness, pretty much are surefire laughs-which, if you are Hormel Foods, is problematic. Sixty-five years ago, Spam was merely a contraction of "spiced ham" (if you accept that sodium is a spice and hog shoulder is ham.) Based on the 1937 state of food technology, it was a product for its time. And if you didn't dwell too much on the manufacturing process, it wasn't half bad, especially fried.

In time, though-because tinned jelly-coated pork byproduct is so conceptually revolting-Spam took on a certain stigma. And recently, with the help of a revered Monty Python bit in which the famous trademark name was chanted to drown out conversation, Spam became synonymous with junk e-mail. Meanwhile, the semi-ham in a can has been a steadily shrinking cash cow.

So now, Hormel is trying to use Spam's very downmarket disreputability to reawaken America to its long-forgotten charms.

The spots from BBDO, Minneapolis, begin with a distinctive audio sting-Spammmmm!-underneath a stylized, `50s-style title card, exactly as was done in the "Dick" campaign for Miller Lite. The campaign, in fact, is the very synthesis of Lite and Old Navy: a post-modern, intentionally kitschy, anti-advertising approach to advertising.

One spot, for example, takes place in a dining room and features a sickeningly cheerful family of refugees from some sort of 1955 inner circle of hell. The spot opens as Dad has just finished telling a swell joke.

Mom: That was a good one!

Boy: But not as good as this mac and cheese!

Dad: Well that's because it's made with Spam!

Sis: What do you mean?

Dad: Well, I cooked some macaroni and then I added some cheese, and then I added some cubes of Spam!

Mom: Wow, I'd sure like some more, but there's none left!

Dad: [turning and shouting] More Spam!

Here a truck crashes halfway into the dining room, and the driver delivers, on a tray, new blue tins of Spam.

Sis: Mmm! More Spam! (laughter)

Voice-over: CRA-zy tasty!

OK, it's amusing. You know, "Ha! Ha! See us laughing at the idiotic conventions of an entertainment sensibility long since dead, and also at ourselves."

That's fine, up to a point. Certainly such continuing cult favorites as "The Brady Bunch" owe their popularity among young audiences to the very same dated, insipid naivete. Hyper-irony is a legitimate way to remind those under 60 that such a product still exists. But here's the thing: It's fine to amuse America by being the butt of your own joke, provided you ultimately try to make your product attractive.

The very best part of the spot is the tag "Crazy tasty," which is actually sort of true. Not a single other element in the TV campaign makes Spam more palatable to consumers. Instead, what the spots communicate is, "If you eat this crap, you are a blithering moron."

That is anti-advertising. It's also anti-smart.


BBDO, Minneapolis

Ad Review Rating: 1.5 stars

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