Igive Grey points for originality and perhaps unintentional honesty: This could be the first time in ad history that a loaded hamburger is being sold as a substitute wind instrument. Yes, in this latest spot for DQ, people are shown wearing big, steaming burgers in harmonica holders around their necks.
I'm not making this up. Indeed, so big and delicious is this "quarter-pound mushroom Swiss grillburger" that those doin' the Q never want to put it down. Hence the meal-on-a-neck-rack, which keeps the meat in constant mouth contact and leaves the hands free to exercise with weights, use a computer, drill cement or, if you're a pale Dylan wannabe, annoy people by playing faux-urban-troubadour guitar in a park. Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, save a mushroom for me.
I guess we can't really take umbrage on behalf of old Bob—these days he's too busy skulking around a castle, embarrassing himself with Victoria's Secret models. But I'm still offended on behalf of all the closet night-bumper-wearing adolescents and all the adults who believe that their particular millstones and albatrosses are best worn in private.
Plus, strapping on the feedbag is just gross —it suggests your appetites and impulses must be out of control. Either that or the client has such blinders on that it truly believes this burger is the most important, irresistible thing in all of our lives, forcing the creatives to set up this absurd netherworld to illustrate that.
That's a shame, because some of the ads that preceded "Harmonica" in the past year and a half were nicely observed little comedies based on relatable moments—give or take a missing (or additional) limb and/or wallop in the crotch. That stuff (and when hamsters, squirrels, dogs and insects attack) has become the comedy vernacular in modern advertising.
So how did we get here?
Well, it all started with the pre-cool DQ—when each restaurant was actually called Dairy Queen (an even less fortunate name when topped off by a Brazier) and known for selling ice cream treats in a Happy Days sort of way. In the last two years, and with a much larger ad budget, the chain has been repositioned and modernized with ads promoting salads and burger offerings, as well as those iconic, Fonzie-era blizzards.
The hipification began with spots that sometimes use Budweiser-ish war-of-the-sexes-style plots, plus the kind of limb- and injury-related humor we've seen recently in spots for everything from Washington Mutual to Skittles to Mike's Hard Lemonade. That means taking standard narratives and blowing 'em out to the edge of Cliff Freeman darkness and back. It's seemingly aimed only at those 19-year-old males who appear so highly coveted by fast-food outlets, but now stoner-boy humor has gone mainstream.
Certainly, the weird-wacky has put DQ on the map. I particularly liked last year's "Baby Bjorn" spot, in which a dad buys himself a nice little cheesecake blizzard and tries to keep it to himself while his baby, in a holder on his chest, tries to get some. The actor is great as a yuppie trying to convince himself he's not being selfish ("This is Daddy's. This is not for babies. That's why I'm a Daddy") as the kid kicks him in the crotch and butts him in the head. "Got kids?" he asks the woman watching. It's true—anyone with a kid has had something similar happen, perhaps minus the kicking and butting.
Similarly, a cheesecake blizzard spot from this year's crop illuminates another painful little parent-child truth. In his suburban driveway with the basketball hoop, an ever-competitive dad tells his klutzy little son with glasses that they'll go get a blizzard when the kid gets a basket. "Try to focus," the Dad says after about the fourth bad shot. "Are you even looking at the rim?" he asks later, as the kid, still without a 2-pointer, is slowly destroying both him and the hoop. "Just get in the car," the by-now black-and-blue dad says. When they return, he uses his soda as an ice pack. The idea has been done before, but the spot offers nice writing and expert timing.
The soon-to-be-released spot for the latest MooLatte (how that name got through is a mystery to me) is also very Cedric the Entertainer —your basic boyfriend type steals sips as he consoles his girlfriend over the death of her cat, Muffin. ("Uum, Mocha," he says as he secretly slurps, and she corrects him—"Muffin.")
Those spots pick up on a kernel of truth that's funny. I do think that calling a cafe au lait drink a "MooLatte" is a bit insensitive. But it's nowhere near as un-P.C. as "Killer Bee," another upcoming spot. The writing and comic acting are great; in a lab, one scientist says to another that he's "learned to speak bee"—a particularly funny line. What's unfortunate is the racial stereotyping—the scientists are from India, with cartoon accents. At one point, the one who "speaks bee" is shown through a magnifying glass—all nose and lips and teeth, an awful caricature. When the second scientist, who has a banana cream blizzard, asks what purpose speaking bee could serve, the bee up and stings him—and he falls down dead. The denouement is that the bee speaker gets stung and dies, too, ha ha.
The spots that work isolate moments of humanity that sometimes involve poignance and misfortune, however wildly exaggerated. Affixing a burger to a mouth harp, however, is willfully stupid. Sometimes the answer is definitely not blowin' in the wind.
Grey, New York
director, Grey N.A.
Managing partner, creative, Grey N.Y.
Creative director, copywriter
("Killer Bee" only)
("Killer Bee" only)
Baker Smith, Harvest
Face the Music