The AdCritic

Chef Boyardee, Sprint and The NBA

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This week, our editors rate recent spots for Chef Boyardee, Sprint and the NBA.

Chef Boyardee "Rolling Can"
Chef Boyardee: Rolling Can

For many aging Gen-Xers, the "We're having Beefaroni!" song and Italo-cheesy scenes from Chef Boyardee ads are a vague but cherished marketing memory. Given the weight of that heritage, it's hard to imagine where the Chef could go from there, beyond playing up the kitsch with an ironic, Mentos-like tack or pursuing a more "modern" approach that would surely involve a hip-hop soundtrack and precocious, trash-talking tweens. Leo Burnett opts for neither, instead proffering this oddly compelling tale of a girl and a can. In the spot, a can of Chef Boyardee is left behind at the grocery store and makes its way to a little girl's house under its own steam -- rolling its way out of the store, across town and into its target's arms, accompanied by a standout, accordion-driven (and peculiarly French, not Italian) track. Director Phil Morrison makes the most of the simple brief, injecting more actual tension and wit into the 60-second journey than is typically evident in the standard 90-minute Hollywood blockbuster.

Beyond the superb visuals, though, the storyline raises an obvious question. The mother in the spot ixnays the purchase of the can of Chef at the supermarket, despite a plea from her child. It's curious that the product is depicted as a substance that needs to be controlled, rather than positioned -- in the manner of every other prepackaged kids food goo -- as "full of essential vitamins and minerals." But wait. Perhaps this is a reverse psychology gambit -- the savory foods equivalent of slapping an advisory sticker on a CD. Perhaps the creatives purposely set out to create a bond between child and noodle -- showing the ravioli and the little girl united against The Man. Or maybe they didn't. In any case, the result is that Leo has made a compelling argument for the kids while creating an ad that's agreeable to the adult of the house, who is treated to a delightful narrative and a subtle dose of honesty instead of an inane assault on the nerve endings. The ad leaves guardian figures with warm feelings about the product, bringing an emotional, yet not cloying element into the decision to buy Chef for the kids (or themselves: drunk adults surely account for a significant chunk of the Chef's patrons). No matter that the idea is vaguely reminiscent of other "inanimate object on a quest" spots we've seen in the last few years (Visa's "Lost Luggage" springs to mind), or that it will surely lose some of its charm when cut down from its 60-second state. It's still a monumental achivement for a middle-aged ConAgra brand and a worthy reflection of Leo's recent Mark Tutssel-led push to boost the agency's creative output. (TI)

Sprint "Tableface"
Sprint: Tableface

You know what they say: "Dying is easy, comedy is hard -- and creating funny b-to-b advertising is really, really hard. Publicis & Hal Riney has conquered it, however, in a new spot for Sprint's IP data services. (If you don't know what those are, don't worry -- you're not the target.) Directed by Harvest's Baker Smith, the spot opens with executives discussing the topic with their faces planted -- quite inexplicably -- to a conference room table. While this mystery attracts our attention, the dialogue delivers the IT goods -- Sprint is better than AT&T for data accesibility and security, a point driven home when a masked robber barks at the bantering suits to stay quiet and we realize a robbery is in progress, right there in the conference room. The tone is of a piece with Sprint's consumer campaign -- an initially annoying campaign that has gotten stunningly better with age -- and the joke is an unexpected one, especially for something as dry as IP data services. While we admit it's not quite as good, this could be the best piece of b-to-b comedy since Computer Associates' slapstick masterpiece "Amnesia." (JH)

NBA "Duncan"
NBA: Trophy Campaign

This, the first work from the New York office of London agency Mother, definitely has that Motherish feel. Created in cooperation with the NBA, the campaign promotes the NBA playoffs and finals through a simple, absurdist conceit: treating the Larry O'Brien trophy like a person, in particular a woman lusted after by all manner of NBA stars. Which is a pretty good idea, since -- as a casual basketball fan -- I had no idea what the NBA's championship trophy looked like until now. If O'Brien is to become a household name like Stanley or Lombardi, this is a good start. The spots themselves are pretty funny, as we see players like Tim Duncan and Vlade Divac sick with love for the coveted hardware, although we're still not quite out of the orbit of Nike and -- especially -- ESPN, which dominate this category from afar. We are assured that this is just the first phase of a campaign that will run right up to the finals in June, and we look forward to finding out what happens next. Until then, three stars plus a bonus tied to post-season performance. (JH)

(THE REVIEWERS: Jim Hanas is the editor of Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine.)

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