Rewind: Polly-O's Cheesy 80's Ad Was an Instant Classic

Teenagers Randomly Using Italian and French Words Resonated for Some Strange Reason

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When Giuseppe Pollio came to America to set up his cheese-making business in Brooklyn in 1899, he never could have predicted that nearly a century later, his company would roll out a majorly quirky marketing campaign that would catapult the brand to success.

For most of its history, Polly-O (a play on the founder's last name) was an independent company known for selling quality ricotta and mozzarella cheese in U.S. grocery stores. As its distribution spread, so did the brand's recognition, leading to its purchase by Kraft Foods in 1986. Not coincidentally, that 's when a huge national TV push began for a new product: "Polly-O String Cheese."

For years, the ad that is the subject of this week's Rewind was in heavy rotation. In a stroke of marketing brilliance, it positioned the cheese to kids as "the best part of the pizza."

In the spot (above), we see three teenagers stroll into a pizza parlor. The most macho of the bunch, clad in a leather-jacket, makes an unusual demand of the pizza owner. That owner, named Fred, is played by actor John Capodice -- who started out in TV shows such as "Ryan's Hope," "Spenser for Hire," "Moonlighting" and "Kate & Allie," and later went on to have roles in movies such as "Ace Ventura" and "Speed."

The script goes as follows.

Teen: "Hey Fred, gimme a pizza with extra cheese"

Fred: "Extra cheese."

Teen: "And hold the tomato sauce."

Fred: "Hold the tomato sauce?"

Teen: "And hold the crust."

Fred: "Hold the crust?!... [to piemaker] Hey Jimmy, gimme a cheese with nuttin!"

Jimmy: [screwing up his face] "Nuttin????"

The kids get exactly what they ordered. Fred opens up a pizza box, but rather than a pie, it's filled with numerous sticks of Polly-O string cheese.

All three teens, in quick succession say: "Bellissimo! "Magnifique!" "C'est si bon!"

Witnessing youngsters talking to adults in that manner, almost staging a brush with authority, helped the ad be an attention grabber. But it was the way the ad closed that really made it memorable for many folks to this day. There's still no explanation for why the kids exclaimed these various foreign words, especially considering the last two phrases are in French and really have absolutely nothing to do with the brand.

Still, the ad accomplished what it set out to do. It was pretty much no time before the snacks -- wrapped tightly in plastic with a little "Polly the Parrot" mascot stamped on the front -- made their way into every school lunch-bag. The sticks' range was expanded from mozzarella to cheddar and (ugh, cringe) pepperoni flavors.

Beyond the quirky creative of the TV commercial, it was a simple packaging innovation -- making cheese portable -- that suddenly made it convenient and permissable for kids to just chomp on hunks of cheese.

It's a far cry from the classic Italian recipe that Mr. Pollio brought with him when he set up cheese kettles on the Coney Island beach in Brooklyn. But the recipe for a hit ad is outlined right here. Roll out a new product with some levity and a little weirdness that generates talk value, and you might strike advertising gold.

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