Ever hear of Kalles Kaviar? It's cod roe, and you eat it out of a toothpaste tube.
Cringe away, but Kalles is a beloved Swedish product. They put it over eggs and eat it on toast. It's basically Sweden's Marmite. To drive sales, parent company Orkla tapped Forsman & Bodenfors to produce a self-deprecating campaign. For the last year, Kalles has been traveling the world, seeking to initiate others—unsuccessfully, to put it mildly—in the Swedish taste of home.
The first ad takes place in Los Angeles and sets the tone. An earnest sampler with a pillowy-soft, Swedish-accented voice, perched in the one shadow on a well-lit boardwalk, shyly stops random strangers to offer them seasoned Kalles on slices of bread. People are eager to give it a go. It's an open-minded crowd. But the reactions come fast and hard.
"This is not food," one victim exclaims with a certainty usually reserved for proclamations of love or long-awaited deaths. After taking a reaming all day, our unlucky sampler reclines on the beach at sundown to enjoy his slices of the motherland in peace.
Our favorite is probably "Kalles in Tokyo." The Japanese, they're so polite! They leap in for the kill, and you can literally see their faces transform in horror as their mouths close. In a key moment, the sampler asks a still-chewing (and evidently disgusted) woman, "Do you like it?" She covers her mouth, nods politely, and backs away—slowly, like you would if you suddenly found yourself face to face with a bear.
The self-deprecating work plays on the cottage food-challenge trend. Kalles itself has starred in many. Two years ago, Maker Studios' Morfar ate a whole tube over the course of nearly 10 minutes, and after a few unsettling dry-heaves, he cuts the video off—ostensibly to vomit in private. In another stunt, vlogger Big Steve from England tried getting locals to let him squeeze a hefty portion of Kalles in their mouths. The video is called "EATING THE WORST FOOD IN THE WORLD! (KALLES CAVIAR)."
The genius of the campaign lies in how it magnifies those chimes of universal disgust to bolster Swedish pride. (The ads are airing in Sweden, where there's no need to win people over to the stuff.) Look at the beatific faces of those samplers when they're finally done for the day. Hours of rejection can't shake their love for the salty pink goo, because in the end, it's a little squirt from home. (This kind of nationalism, evoked by acquired tastes, has made for good ads before—notably Pizza Hut Australia's punking of backpackers with a Vegemite-crust pizza. Plus, there's inherent value in saying your product isn't for everyone—as Laphroaig scotch has realized lately.)
We've all got a Kalles, right? The Aussies have Vegemite. The Brits have Marmite. And Americans have peanut butter. Sweet, sweet peanut butter. You won't know how much you love it—and how singular and alienating that love is—until you're living elsewhere. Say, France. And when we spread our respectively weird creams over a bland carb, wherever we are in the world, they bring us back to a place we understand intuitively.
A few other Kalles ads appear below. In the most recent variant (at the bottom), Kalles visits New York, and the first person to approach the kiosk is a black dude with hipster glasses and a Yankees cap. This time the response is surprisingly different. On the other side of the world, the brand finally finds its people.