Friday, January 14, 2011

Mustard, the New Superfood?

Let Me Paint You a Picture
Imagine a typical American kitchen. An middle aged woman is stirring a pot, and she looks a bit concerned. Then a voice from off screen says, "Is that chili too boring? Why don't you spice it up with a little French's?" The scene changes to another woman making macaroni and cheese, "Spice it up with French's!" A third shot reveals yet another woman and her daughter looking at some plain chicken (apparently only women can cook). "It's even great in a marinade!" the voice says, and the family agrees as they smile at each other. We pan back over the family eating and laughing. Looks like French's really brought the family together and saved the day! Then, as the container of mustard flies around the room, the slogan is revealed: “Happy Starts Here.”

No, I didn't make this up. I wish I did. I saw this commercial last night while watching the Food Network. I instantly turned off the TV after that line. It reeks with a lack of imagination. The phrase falls flat despite the elaborate portrayal of mustard as the hero of tonight’s dinner. 

I am disgusted at marketers today. Can’t you come up with anything original? (and mustard on mac and cheese isn’t original, that just sounds nasty) Happiness? Really? If you think your happiness comes from mustard then I want to know what you think sadness comes from, purely out of curiosity. Toast? Lite-Brite? Justin Bieber

What is Your Happiness Worth?
Tying an emotion to a product is not a new concept. Even capitalizing on people wanting to be happy isn't new. Look at this list of slogans from

1) Coca Cola:  Open Happiness 
2) Lay's (a unit of Pepsico): The Happiness Exhibit 
3) Unilver: Share Happy 
4) Best Buy: Buyer Be Happy 
5) Ben & Jerry's: Scoop of Happiness 
6) City of Baltimore: Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore 
7) Nivea: a) Happy Sensation Lotion; and b) Touch of Happiness Body Wash 
8) Golden Coral: Help Yourself to Happiness 
9) French's Mustard: Happy Starts here 
10) Adidas: 2010 FIFA World Cup Soccer Ball is Named Jabulani (Share Happiness in Zulu) 
11) Rita's: a) Ice - Custard - Happiness; and b) What Flavor is Your Happiness? 
12) Hershey's Chocolate: Hershey's makes S'more happiness. 
13) Comcast: Happiness is Only a Power Button Away 
14) IHOP: Come Hungry, Leave Happy 
15) Edible Arrangements: Happiness is Always in Season 
16) HomeGoods: a) Be HomeGoods Happy; and b) Spread Happiness 

It bothered me when Coke came out with “Open Happiness” which is the most egotistical slogan I’ve heard to date. But when mustard is the source of our happiness, that's when I put my foot down. Companies are taking this too far. 

How can we possible expect to channel our happiness though a condiment? That's what they want. They want the association between their product and our emotions to be so strong that when we think about that swirling line of mustard on our hot dogs we'll think we've won the lottery. Maybe that's a bit strong. That would be a best case scenario. But this commercial doesn't even come close to that fantasy; it is horrible. The family is happy, and they really came together tonight, but let's not forget the hero of tonight’s dinner. The freaking mustard!

Maybe I'm Being a bit Harsh on French's.
After all, marketing a product as lame as mustard must difficult. I can see a team standing in an office huddled around a dry erase board, 

"And then, out of nowhere, the mustard flies out of the cabinet. And the parents are shocked, but not too shocked, because someone has rescued them from the drudgery of cooking."
OOOooo and AHHhhs fill the room
“Then what?” someone asks.
“Why then he'll fly around shooting magical lines of mustard all over the kitchen, and dinner will be saved because we smothered everything in mustard."
“You’re a genius.”
“I know, I know.”
"Should we give it a cape?" 
"Don’t be stupid.”

So, if not Happiness, What Then?
What would I associate mustard with? Well, I don't enjoy mustard so this might be difficult. But I'll give it a shot. Mustard isn't the hero that it's portrayed in this ridiculous commercial. It's more like a close friend (the one you ignore but is always there when you need them). It knows ketchup and you are best friends, and it doesn’t want to break you up, but it still wants your attention. Standing next to the mayonnaise and relish silently screaming “Try me, try me!” You finally opt for mustard, and a clique montage ensues.

When you win the first softball game for your work league, and ketchup is busy with the first basemen, mustard is there to dress your hot dog. When you’re sick you can turn mustard into a homemade sore throat relief, and when those pesky kids won't stop stealing the beer from your garage you can hit them with a mustard stink bomb. You high-five mustard. “That will teach them a lesson” Then you politely close the door on mustard as you and ketchup watch the rest of Gilmore Girls. Mustard waits patiently outside. It’s raining, but it doesn’t care. It knows someday you’ll be back for more of that spicy golden goodness. You look outside and close the blinds.

Could French’s Pull it Off?
Would they want to? Who knows? But they have a better chance at injecting a little humor than making their mustard the beloved savoir of all things dinner. As David Gianatasio for Ad Week puts it, "Sure, you're getting '40% more free,' but it's just mustard. How much can any one family consume? It's not like the stuff tastes good on cereal or swirled into coffee." Sorry French's, mustard is unlikely to overtake ketchup as the condiment of choice any time soon. But you might have better luck changing your marketing tactics, because happiness isn’t working for you.

Ps. Who’s your condiment best friend? Mine used to be a savory, bold sauce named B.B.Q.