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Was Kraft Right In Hiring Ted Williams?

By: Guest | January 11, 2011 | 
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Guest post by Gregg Jaffe, the owner of Big Teeth Productions. He’s not only a close friend, he’s one of the most witty, too! Check out his thoughts on the creative behind Kraft using Ted Williams for their Mac & Cheese commercials.

If you had told me last week that the most famous Ted Williams in America would NOT be the guy who hit over .400 for the Red Sox in the ‘40’s, but a hobo with a voice of gold who traded in his cardboard sign and roadside spot for overnight voice-over fame and glory I would have laughed right in your face. Yet here we are.

This is no doubt a feel good story as Williams has already parlayed his newfound glory into appearances on the talk show circuit, but more importantly a gig voicing a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial that generated a ton of social media buzz and already 750,000 YouTube hits. Now here’s the rub… Williams voice is totally unnecessary for that spot.

I know, edgy… controversial… scandalous! But let’s be honest here, Kraft ignored the creative needs of their commercial in favor of one that would spawn a boatload of publicity for their company.

I spend most of my days creating videos that market products and I don’t figure to ever deliver anything that gets the attention that our silk-tongued friend received from the original video on the side of an Ohio highway.

We labor over every tiny creative decision and whether it meets the clients strategic goals or if it’s just “I like blue, so this monkey HAS to be blue,” and then fall to the floor in a spastic fit until it’s changed to blue. I imagine whatever advertising team is behind the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese campaign did the same – determine the strategic/creative needs and deliver on that.

If you watch the other spots of the same campaign there is a male voice-over at the end of each spot that’s not all that different sounding from Teddy boy. My first instinct when I heard Ted’s spot was, “that voice just seems wrong for mac & cheese.” So when I did the homework and heard the other VO guy I realized that despite my personal opinions, if you didn’t know any better you probably wouldn’t catch that it’s a different guy. So Kraft really did nothing to enhance the messaging of the product but like a junkie, went for the instant high. Did it pay off?

The new commercial already has seven times the number of hits as the next most watched in the series, and it’s been online for four days! Of course the second most watched is Ted’s voice-over behind the scenes. If you scan the comments almost all of them are overwhelmingly positive towards Ted.

What do you think? Did Kraft make the right choice in going for quick publicity gains regardless of the strategic needs of their well-thought out campaign?  I’m not sure, but if you see me on the side of the highway with a cardboard sign, grab your Flip Cam, and come say hi.

Gregg Jaffe is the owner of Big Teeth Productions, a Chicago video production company; in his spare time he gets in trouble for having a big mouth. You can see his work at www.bigteeth.tv and www.facebook.com/bigteeth or enjoy his foot-in-mouth disease on twitter @bigteethvideo.

46 comments
YogiBerra
YogiBerra

I totally think Kraft did a smart thing by hiring Williams -- and doing it *immediately* when the viral video crested in popularity. Someone is going to benefit from that 15 minutes of fame, and it might as well be your company and your product. Also, it makes you look compassionate; this story had a suffering, redemptive hero at its heart and Kraft was able to play the good knight coming to the rescue. Seems like win plus win for Kraft. And nice for Williams.

Shonali
Shonali

Obviously I have no idea what the thinking behind this was on Kraft's part. Seems like it was a nice thing for them to do, and it's a cute commercial. I actually do think Ted's voice fits with the VO (I'm usually more irked by precocious kids who are know-it-alls in commercials, but that's just me).

The main question here is what was Kraft trying to achieve. They probably don't expect to see an immediate rise in sales from this one commercial, but were/are looking for eyeballs, as @LFJeremy put it, or looking like the company that did a nice thing, as @FollowtheLawyer and @hannush said. Neither of those are bad things, but it will be interesting to see what steps, if any, they take down the road to move from eyeballs to conversions.

@HowieG OMG, I can totally see him as a game show host!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I perused many of the comments and I see the heart of the matter. The question isn't should Ted have found a gig with his voice. I think we agree his story is worthy even though seems today him and his daughter had an argument that brought the cops and them to the station for a bit today. So jury is still out on true redemption until this lays out.

They question is 1] Why Kraft and 2] Why their Mac and Cheese. I agree with Gregg that it was more a PR stunt Kraft was jumping at. Great for a commercial selling a very high calorie food to parents for their kids to eat?

Would of made more sense for him to get picked up by a game show for an announcing job.

"Yes Johnnnnnny, behind curtan number 3 is an all expense paid trip to Chicago for 2 to get a tour of Arment Dietrich, lunch with Jack Bauer and their very own Guest Post on Spin Sucks......but this only if the Price is Right!"

JoshPGreenberg
JoshPGreenberg

I agree Ted's part in this commercial is totally irrelovent. This is just a move to get eyeballs on the Kraft brand. If there are positive attitudes for Ted then maybe Kraft is hoping that will rub off on their brand. All I know is I'm out of college now and don't want to see Mac and Cheese for a long long time.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

I didn't include this in the original blog, but has anyone thought about the guy who Ted's voice replaced? He had a nice comfortable voice-over job that can be hard to come by and now he's left out in the cold.

It's possible that he has other income and this won't affect him, but as the husband of a voice-over artist I know how fleeting those gigs can be. Maybe he'll have to hit the streets and reinvent himself.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

I think it's a nice gesture and I'm sure we all hope this is the "golden ticket" that will help Williams stay out of trouble in the future. Neither the gesture or Williams' (hopefully) happy new life will matter much to Kraft's bottom line in the end.

But Kraft would never hire a VO artist with a rap sheet half as long as Williams. I've seen too many of his mugshots to not wonder/hope that they did a background check to see if there's anything else they need to be afraid of.

FollowtheLawyer
FollowtheLawyer

I don't think it will sell any more cheesy pasta, but I do think it burnishes the "family values" aspects of the Kraft brand because it was a decent thing to do. They don't seem to be making a big deal out of it on their own -- WOM is doing that -- which I think innoculates them somewhat from accusations of crass opportunism.

Even if Williams subsequently implodes, by keeping it low-key now they will still come out ahead as a brand that gave a second chance to someone who desperately needed it.

hannush
hannush

Some would say, any PR is good PR. That's all I see this as. Kraft, using a feel good story to come out looking like a good company.

Does it sell any more Mac & Cheese? Well, if it sold 1% more, that would be good for Kraft's bottom line and would be considered a win, right?

In the long run, we will all forget about Ted Williams and get back to our lives. If someone decides to buy Kraft Mac & Cheese instead of the cheaper brand and they decide they like it and have a good feeling about the company...they may become a loyal customer.

To me, this is no different than a companies offering to send a portion of their proceeds to charity. It doesn't hurt anyone, and it helps. In the long run, I think its an okay strategy.

paigeworthy
paigeworthy

IMHO, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese's target audience doesn't give a rip about their creative strategy and who's doing the VO for their ads. They're going to buy their crack in the blue box no matter who's repping it. (I am, at least.) The story and the feel-good factor are way more important.
Way to go, Kraft, for snatching up Williams first.

MatthewKaminsky
MatthewKaminsky

It seems to me as if Kraft took advantage of an opportunity to show their compassionate side. The perception that Kraft helped this man off drugs and reunited him with his mother is what will benefit them in the short term. I agree with @a_greenwood . In the future, if Mr. Williams does relapse, I doubt the press will pick it up. By next week, we will have all latched onto a different viral video and forget all about Ted. (Anyone remember Isaiah Mustafa?)

a_greenwood
a_greenwood

They went for the easy two-fer. Great PR and a decent VO. Hard to say I wouldn't have advised them to do the same thing. (From a VO perspective, yeah, his voice doesn't ring "mac n cheese" to me, but it works okay.) And if Mr. Williams goes haywire down the road (his personal demons are pretty nasty), Kraft still comes out smelling like a cheese, er, rose, for giving the guy a chance.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@Shonali That's a fair point about the precocious kid being annoying - I guess to each their own creatively and it's up to the client/agency to decide that. But I think it's clear, and that you'd agree, that this was not a creative decision but a PR stunt.

@HowieG At a time like this can't we all just agree that Mac & Cheese is delicious. You're either with us or against us.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Shonali @LFJeremy @FollowtheLawyer @hannush The standard Mac and Cheese as a side dish has 400calories and 29% of your daily value of Fat. Other flavors have less ranging from 300-410cal and from 9% to 28% of Fat for a day. So as long as parents make it the 1] main dish and 2] only give 1cup 3]nothing else but veggies w/o butter its safe. But if its a side dish then this comes down to the Famous Gun Debate: Does Kraft Mac and Chesse Kill People or do People Kill People?

JonHearty
JonHearty

@bigteethvideo @John Fitzgerald @jmatthicks A good point. There are a lot of factors in the ethics of this situation. But I see the old VO guy losing his position as a matter of business. If he wasn't bringing enough to the table to justify Kraft keeping him, he probably should focus on the next gig instead of complaining.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@JonHearty @John Fitzgerald @jmatthicks you might not say that if you were the guy he replaced! He may be an innocent victim here depending on his reliance on the money he makes from Kraft.

What if the original VO supports a family and has always abided by the law and all of a sudden he's out of a good job because Kraft is capitalizing on Ted's fleeting fame.

This is just another hypothetical wrench in the feel good story.

JonHearty
JonHearty

@John Fitzgerald I gotta agree with you on this one @jmatthicks . Although when hearing Ted's voice, I don't think "mmmm....cheeeeese", why not use his amazing story to your company's advantage, when the next best voice is not much different.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@LFJeremy I'd have to agree that it seems like a correct move. I guess the cynic in me doesn't want to give Kraft credit for the first comment you made - I doubt altruism played any role as opposed to flat out opportunism (which is OK in the context b/c both Ted & Kraft win).

But yeah, word of mouth here is as much as you could hope for and there really hasn't been any negative comments that I've seen anywhere.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@John Fitzgerald That's a good point too. If Ted Williams just wandered into the booth, regardless of talent, he clearly would not have been given the time of day by Kraft or anyone else.

Ah the power of the Internet.

hannush
hannush

@bigteethvideo You bring up an interesting point. I was pointing at a spur of the moment strategic move (overall doing things that look good in the eyes of the public)...rather than banking on a long term strategy, as this is very hard to predict.

It is a new era...my guess is, they just happened to have a marketing meeting when this happened. Just good timing on their part. Same with the Cleveland Cavs. I'm guessing the Cavs had a spot to fill.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@hannush I have to agree with most of what you're saying. One thing I found interesting though is that you say "I think its an okay strategy." What I wonder though is do you really think that Kraft did anything strategically here or just decided to capitalize on a moment?

These moments are happening a lot in the Internet/Social Media era. I like to see how brands like Kraft that are typically very slow moving and take months to develop any PR or advertising initiatives, are jumping into the fray and acting almost more on emotion than actual strategy.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@timjahn @paigeworthy You really think Kraft needs more people to "know their name"? I think they are probably in the top 5-10 most recognized brands in the country.

It's a little deeper than name recognition but still ultimately is about capitalizing on a hot topic.

timjahn
timjahn

@bigteethvideo @paigeworthy Is there a difference between PR and "proper advertising"? At the end of the day, Kraft needs more people to know their name and buy their products. They've accomplished this with capitalizing on the Ted story.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@paigeworthy No consumer/end user is concerned about creative strategy, that's the job of the people creating the ads and the company to know what their strategy is.

I think that we all like to think we're not influenced by ads in our decision-making but big companies must think that it matters because then why would they continue to make ads at all?

I do think that the take-away is that Kraft's decision was more about PR than it is about proper advertising regardless of the ad's effectiveness.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@MatthewKaminsky @a_greenwood The Isaiah Mustafa situation was very different. He is an actor portraying a character. That's actually a topic for a whole other blog post - the art of creating a "viral" ad vs. waiting for one to happen and then capitalizing on it.

You have to give Old Spice and their agency a lot more credit because they invented that without any sad back story. It was just plain ol' Internet fun.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@John Fitzgerald @MatthewKaminsky @a_greenwood It'll be interesting to see what happens with Ted's story. I think we are all rooting for him to not fall from grace b/c he seems like a decent human and is genuinely thankful of his new opportunity. But part of the human interest is to see if someone who has hit rock bottom before can avoid it again.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

@MatthewKaminsky @a_greenwood - I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of the short term benefit to Kraft, but I wouldn't be sure that the media will ignore a relapse. The press will pick it up for the same reason they picked up the story in the first place - they need stories. And we all know that the media prefers a "falling from grace" story to anything positive.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald

@a_greenwood - Good point about his voice. I think he'd be a GREAT announcer on one of the Late Night talk shows. I think someone like Conan, Kimmel or Fallon could make him an important part of their show, while being lighthearted about his past troubles and (most importantly) giving him a daily gig so he has a job to excel at when the excitement of his rags to riches story begins to fade. His voice is perfect for it.

bigteethvideo
bigteethvideo

@a_greenwood I think I feel the same way. When I first heard the spot it sounded off and despite the inclination to want the best creative no matter what, it's hard to argue with the amount of press Kraft will get on this.

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