11 Mar The Pet Peeve: Talking Food
I don’t like talking food. Not one bit.
It all started when I was a very young child.
I’m watching television one day. I guess I was about seven. And across my television screen comes a commercial for StarKist tuna. There’s an animated character named “Charlie.” He’s trying to convince an off-screen narrator that he should be chosen by the StarKist folks to be included in their superior product.
The fish went on and on about how high class his tastes were. And the narrator says something like, “we want tuna that tastes good. Not tuna with good taste.”
Get it? Ha ha.
Except. That’s not funny! I hated Charlie the Tuna because he seemed to not understand one very important thing: StarKist would kill him, slice his skin off, cut him into tiny pieces and then can him. And then he’d end up on my sandwich.
I could not understand why the people at StarKist would roll out a commercial with a talking version of their product. It made no sense!
It was completely illogical to me. And besides that, it was freaky. I don’t like companies attempting to sell me food by making it talk to me!
It didn’t end there. If anything, the saga of talking food has become a mainstay in our culture. Anyone remember Twinkie The Kid?
I may be one of the few people on Earth who has never had a Twinkie. Not once in my whole life. When I was growing up, Twinkies were made with animal shortening and pork was a no-no in my house. Even after I dabbled in Pop Tarts, marshmallows and other random items that may have contained gelatin, I never got down with Twinkies. That filling seemed over the top. It made my teeth hurt just looking at it.
But of course, an auxillary reason for my distaste of Twinkies was the logo. A twinkie dressed up like a cowboy? Why is he smiling? Does he want us to eat him? How is watching a live-action form of a snack cake supposed to make me want to eat it?
I didn’t get it. And I still don’t.
I don’t mind talking animals who shill for products.
I’m not sure what the Rice Krispies mascots are supposed to be. But they don’t bother me either.
Turns out these dudes are elves. And they were created in 1933! Oh. And in Germany they’re called Knisper!Knasper!Knusper! Totally fine with me. Just don’t sell me food by having the product talk directly to me about how delicious it is.
Have you seen the latest commercials for Frosted mini-wheats?
A “baby” mini-wheat is about to accompany a kid to school to help her “focus.”
And just how is the mini-wheat going to do that? By sacrificing her eight layers of whole grain goodness. It’s a death mission!
One of the worst offenders is the M&M campaign.
The m&m characters are completely humanized. They talk. Interact with humans. Wear white go-go boots. On the M&M website, they even tell you their mottos. (Green’s motto? I melt for no one.)
Well, that’s not true Green M&M. You would melt for me. If I bought a pack of M&Ms right now I guarantee I could eat you and you would MELT. The talking M&M commercials make me want to throw things at the television.
Okay, so there’s this one commercial. Two M&Ms are invited to a party. The host puts them in a “chair” that turns out to be a candy dish! So wrong! And then, there’s another commercial where two candies end up in a grocery bag at the store. The dumb m&m picks up the receipt and says, “hey, here’s the guest list.” And the other candy says, “no, that’s the menu.” WRONG!
And then, the worst offender is the “sultry” green M&M, (voiced by Cree Summer).
So the Green M&M is sexy? What are they selling me here? Seeing her gyrating across the screen, dipping her white glove into a vat of chocolate, does NOT make me want to eat that candy! Ick.
And then there’s Chips Ahoy.
There’s an entire series of these commercials. The cookies are humanized. They walk, talk, drive and live a completely normal existence. Except they’re often snatched up by an offscreen hand and presumably eaten. It makes me sad. There’s one commercial where a few cookies are driving along in a red convertible, innocently singing along to “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by the Human League.
And one by one, an off-screen hand snatches them away. And they DIE.
In another clip, A Chips Ahoy cookie goes to a birthday party and asks, “so where’s the cake?”
If this doesn’t make you feel bad for that poor cookie then you have no soul.
Okay. Now some of these commercials can make me laugh. Here’s one for a product called Pepparami. It’s Britain’s version of a Slim Jim.
Now, a food product who fights back? I can support that. I can not support a food product that doesn’t seem to realize its food. Or food that does know it will be eaten. But can’t do anything about it.
It’s wrong. And when I run for president of the world, I’m running on a campaign to stop the abuse of snack foods.
And the first person I’m coming for is Steve Angel.
Steve Angel is the co founder, director and animator of Head Gear Animation, based in Toronto.
His firm created a campaign for Pop Tarts.
In this parallel universe, Pop Tarts live among us. And they wear jaunty Parisian berets. They are not spicy like Pepparami. They don’t fight back. They’re sweet. And happy. They even come to your house during the holidays and sing Christmas Carols! And what is the reward for this?
We EAT them. We put them in hot ovens and eat them.
(If you can, I urge you to play this commercial again. And watch carefully. At :11 seconds in, you’ll notice the sprinkled Pop Tart says, “please don’t eat us! How sad is that?!)
I got Steve Angel on the phone to find out why in the name of processed snack foods his sick and twisted mind would create such a campaign.
ASK: The pop tart commercials do NOT make me want to eat them. It make me want to buy a box of them to protect them from the world!
SA: But wait. You said it makes you want to buy a box. Then it works! [Laughs]
ASK: Steve. It’s wrong! I feel bad for them! Why did you decide to humanize the food and then have them eaten?
SA: Well, I can’t take credit for the concept. That’s the advertising agency. They came up with the concept. My job is to make it look cool. I think the concept was to tap into a kid’s fun and sneaky side. Kids like that kind of stuff…watching sweet treats suffer.
ASK: Are you sure about that?
SA: I think the idea is that when you create a character it allows people to identify with the product. Whether it’s lovable or devilish or funny. It’s about creating an emotional connection to the product. We’re making it quirky and funny.
ASK: The worst one ever was the the Christmas caroling one…
SA: [Laughs] That was the swan song. The last commercial we did for that campaign.
ASK: When the Pop Tart gets led into her house to “warm up” his face is so sad!
SA: Yeah! We had a lot of back and forth about that! Should he be sad? Should he be resigned to the fact that he will be eaten?
ASK: Awful. You guys have twisted minds.
SA: It’s true. And let me tell you. The client wants everything happy and nice. And creative wants creepy and disturbing.
ASK: So Kellogg’s didn’t want him to be sad?
S.A.: No, they wanted him to be happy about you know, being a good snack for a kid.
ASK: Oh jeez…
S.A.: We wanted more of a complex reaction….he knows he’s gonna die.
ASK: So. In this world, the PopTarts are aware that they are food?
S.A.: No. they think they’re people. But they know their lives are in constant danger.
ASK: Oh god! Don’t tell me that!!
S.A.: Sorry. It’s true. They know death lurks everywhere…
ASK: People think this stuff is funny?
S.A. Sure! This is the history of slapstick…people have been laughing at other’s people’s misery for years. We’re tapping into dark humor.
ASK: Is there anything you wanted to do with these spots that Kellogg’s didn’t like?
S.A. Tons of stuff I had to pull back on. First of all, we could not show the kids actually eating the pop tarts. We tried to do one spot with a Pop Tart in various degrees of mutilation.
ASK: Oh goodness…
S.A. [laughs] Yeah, we couldn’t run that one. We had a pop tart with one leg hopping and half an arm and one eye. And of course, there’s a trail of crumbs coming out of his mutilated body. We even wanted his filling to ooze slowly out of his body. [Laughs]
ASK: You’re sick.
S.A.: If they would have let us run it, kids would have loved it.
ASK: What are you working on right now?
S.A.: We’re doing a long standing campaign for the dairy farmers of Canada.
ASK: Any talking cows?
S.A.: We just might…
ASK: What else are you working on?
S.A. We’re actually doing a campaign for, of all things, a hospital in Baltimore.
ASK: Talking corpses?
S.A. I love it. I’m doing it.
ASK: Thanks Steve, appreciate your time…
Dear readers, be honest with me. I can take it. Am I an absolute weirdo for hating talking food? What’s your position? Creepy or no big deal? Maybe there’s some other kind of advertisement that creeps you out even more? (Like my cousin Allison and the talking teddy bear from the Snuggle fabric softener commercials. She had nightmares about that thing…)
I’d love to hear from you…