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Friday, January 19, 2007

Popcorn Response

I have to give ConAgra credit for a speedy response. Just two days after my post about the disturbing CG Orville Redenbacher commercials, their consumer affairs department replied via a very nice email. I won't reproduce it here, partially because they didn't explicitly grant permission to, and partially because it wasn't terribly interesting, but it was thoughtful and informative. I really greatly appreciate it when companies take the time to interact with their customers. (I also see from my visitor logs that folks from both ConAgra and their ad agency have visited in the past few days.)

The gist of their response was that they'd had good success airing the older ads featuring Orville, and they see this technology as a way to reintroduce him to the current generation. I can see their point, but I wonder if the positive feedback to the old ads wasn't mostly due to nostalgia. Presumably their statisticians would've looked for ways to correct for that, though.

They also said that the Redenbacher family enthusiastically supports the new ad campaign, and they see it as a way to maintain Orville's legacy. He's their ancestor, not mine, so who am I to say?

I think they're onto a good thing with reintroducing Orville, I'm just not sure this is the way to do it. I really don't have any problems with using artificial likenesses of celebrities, provided they and their estates don't mind. My real complaint was just with the unreality of it. Even if their spokes-render wasn't a beloved icon, he still wouldn't look quite right. Somehow, at least for me, it just doesn't manage to walk the fine line between cartoonish-likeness and real-likeness. The Uncanny Valley is an apt description.

I've since seen the ad a few more times, and I've observed the following:
  1. The first time I saw it, apparently the audio was slightly out-of-sync. That hurt it enormously. In later viewings, that wasn't a problem.
  2. I think they must've been going for sort of a CG caricature, which would have been fine. Unfortunately, I think they turned the realism dial up too far.
  3. If the whole commercial (except maybe the popcorn itself?) had been CG, or if there just hadn't been any real people in it, the effect wouldn't have been so disturbing to me. I think the contrast between real and unreal is part of the problem.
  4. The MP3 player part at the beginning was lame. It would've been lame even if Orville himself had been doing it. Talk about the popcorn, or at least something to do with the popcorn. Maybe have Orville sitting in front of a giant HDTV talking about how it's just like going to the movies. "And speaking of going to the movies, nothing completes the experience like my gourmet popping corn!" (Bonus points if he's watching a CG movie and talking about how real it looks.)
    Popcorn + MP3s = Lame.
    Popcorn + Movies = The magic of cinema! (or at least less-lame)

And it has at least gotten people talking, which may be the most important thing. Heck, I'm blogging about it, and you're reading it, so I guess maybe it works on some level at least.

Now that I think of it, we're going to be watching some DVDs this weekend during the impending ice age, and there is some movie-style "gourmet popping corn" in the cabinet....

Monday, January 15, 2007

No Popcorn, Thank You

We saw the new Orville Redenbacher commercial tonight during the Golden Globes. It actually motivated me to send feedback to ConAgra, which is really unusual for me. So, for the record, here's what I wrote:
Ok, I'm not easily offended, but the new Orville Redenbacher commercial with the creepy CG Orville, which ran during the Golden Globes, was just disgusting. I'm not terribly bothered by the poor taste of using a morbid simulacrum of your beloved founder, I just found the unreality of it creepy, disturbing, and off-putting. I thought the recent Burger King commercials were creepy, and before that the Quiznos sandwich ads definitely didn't make me want a sub, but I really think the CG-looking Orville may give me nightmares. It isn't just passing through the Uncanny Valley, it's moving in, chopping down some trees, building a farm, and (presumably) planting a corn crop. The commercial did make me want some popcorn, but the box I reached for was Act II, because they don't have a creepy reanimated corpse for a mascot. You're certainly free to use whatever advertisements you want, but as a customer, I feel some obligation to inform you when you're totally missing the mark.
I think that about sums it up for me.