Watch Lil Yachty and Donny Osmond sing the praises of Chef Boyardee

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Unlikely pair
Unlikely pair Credit: Chef Boyardee

"Chef Boyardee. Start The Par-dee."

The unlikely duo of Lil Yachty and Donny Osmond croon about Chef Boyardee in a cheesy, yet curiously catchy, song for the canned pasta brand as it tries to cash in on America's love of all things throwback.

Chef Boyardee celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, but Conagra Brands hasn't spent money marketing the brand for about five years.

So Conagra enlisted Havas, which tapped into its relationship with Capitol Records to find the odd yet somehow fitting pair of Lil Yachty and Donny Osmond, both artists at the label.

It's the agency's first brand work coming out of its relationship with Capitol Records, in which the Vivendi-owned companies collaborate on ideas, including ways to connect brands and artists.

Chef Boyardee doesn't need to remain relevant, it's got to once again become relevant. While the brand is far from dead -- sales were $455.1 million in the 52 weeks ended July 22, according to IRI data provided by Conagra -- it is not really top of mind. And canned meals just aren't the pantry staples they used to be. Sales in the overall shelf-stable ready meals category, where Chef Boyardee is No. 2 behind Hormel, fell 11.4 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to Euromonitor International, which projects category sales will tumble another 13.8 percent from 2017-2022.

"To a younger generation, they have no idea what the brand is, what it means or anything. They've lost probably two generations of relevance," says Jason Peterson, chief creative officer, Havas. "We need to create something that creates hype and frenzy."

Yachty and Osmond's commercial-meets-music-video, "Start the Par-Dee" includes moments showing the pair in a kitchen, driving around and sitting atop a 6-foot-tall can of Chef Boyardee. The video and shorter clips will be promoted online, while the song is set to pop up on Pandora and Spotify.

"I immediately thought Lil Yachty. There's something about his personality and characteristics that's really broad and weird that felt right for Chef Boyardee," Peterson says of the artist whose hits include "One Night."

The desire to reach a broad audience and also wink to the product's "throwback" status led to the decision to pair him with an older artist. The agency, which now has Annex offshoots in both Chicago and in Capitol's tower in Los Angeles, quickly landed on Osmond, a name people including Peterson recognized, with a long list of hits such as "Puppy Love."

The younger employees, however, needed to learn more.

"To tell you the truth, the majority of people who work at the Annex, they didn't know who he was. They don't know who Donny Osmond is, not at all."

Osmond kicks in with vocals such as "older, younger and in between, you see that we all agree, we love tomatoes, more beef and cheese, thank goodness for Chef Boyardee."

While "Start the Par-Dee" is a long way from the "thank goodness for Chef Boyardee" jingle from the 1980s and early 1990s, it samples a clip from one of those old commercials. The last time a new ad with the jingle ran, Yachty wasn't even born. He turns 21 this week. (Osmond, 60, was likely on some tour with sister Marie, an act that goes on.)

There are people who remember the jingle, says Tim Nangle, Conagra's VP and general manager of meals and sides. "While great, it hasn't been something we've been out there with in 20-plus years." The brand wanted a way to nod back to that jingle but give it a "more modern" feel for today, he says.

Brothers Ettore "Hector" (he's the chef in the brand name), Mario and Paul Boiardi started Chef Boyardee in 1928, spelling their Italian name phonetically for the brand to make it easier for Americans to pronounce.

Chef Boyardee is the latest brand to embrace the nostalgia idea, following the likes of Pepsi Throwback, the return of Coca-Cola's Surge, and even Zima. Fanny packs, high-waisted jeans and other '80s relics have also made their way back into fashion.

Credit: Chef Boyardee

The "throwback recipe" canned pastas include ingredients such as beef, Romano cheese, olive oil and a richer, thicker tomato sauce than the one in the brand's mainstream recipes. They also cost about 50 cents more than regular Chef Boyardee cans.

Nangle declined to share spending plans, but says the project is "meaningful for us and it's high impact." Cans began appearing in some stores in June and sales have been tracking ahead of expectations even before the activation kicks off, he says.

Peterson says the video was created at more of a music video budget, with production costing just over $180,000. If it were shot as a TV commercial, the cost would have been well over $1 million, he says.

Along with Havas on creative, Chef Boyardee works with Spark on media, Edelman on PR and the Mars Agency on shopper marketing.

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