I’m going back to Snapple. They need me,’ cries Wendy Kaufman, the once and future Snapple lady, at the close of the new ad from Deutsch, the brand’s new agency. If nothing else, these copy lines deserve an award for truth in advertising.
As virtually every consumer knows, Wendy disappeared from the airwaves shortly after Quaker Oats bought the brand in 1994. As the company lurched from the inexplicable ‘We Want to be No. 3’ (a.k.a. ‘Why try harder?’) campaign to an endorsement from Buddy Hackett, its share of the juice-drink category sank. So when Triarc Beverages bought Snapple a few months ago, it wasn’t a question of if Wendy was coming back, but when.
Indeed, when the new spot shows a group of natives bowing before a Snapple totem, you almost expect to see the Triarc executives on their knees with them, worshipping at Wendy’s feet.
It wasn’t always like this. When Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners first plucked her from behind the secretary’s desk, where she answered letters from devoted Snapple drinkers, Wendy wasn’t a personality. In fact, she began as a visual and aural joke: a woman of funny angles shot at funny angles. The stars of those early ads were the consumers, who quickly adopted Wendy as the idiosyncratic avatar of the People’s Beverage.
Now, thanks in part to her banishment by Quaker, she returns as a full-fledged star, the Ethel Merman of TV commercials. Consumers now associate Snapple with her, not themselves. She went out a secretary and came back Michael Jordan.
Yet as good as it is to hear an island maiden greet the Wendy search party in that inimitable Long Guyland accent, I’m worried about the Snapple lady.
For example, marketers have already turned up Wendy’s decibel level. This is a misreading of her natural ethnic, uh, exuberance. She has the energy of a pushy social director at a ’50s Catskills resort. The ad turns her into the high priestess of geschrei.
Second, it looks like Wendy’s becoming wacky.
(At the press event announcing Wendy’s return, she wore a Carmen Miranda hat.) Intrinsic to Wendy’s charm is that she doesn’t look like most people on television. But this doesn’t mean she is weird. It means she is typical. Most of us don’t look like the people on television.
Finally, consider the glamorization of Wendy. Quaker, in its short-lived attempt to make Wendy play in Peoria, tried this gambit, and, in the brief glimpse we get of her in the new ad, we see the trend advanced. Wendy’s original beetle-browed neo-Farrah Fawcett look has been abandoned for a sleeker, more sophisticated do. In the tropical sun, her skin has a dewy glow. And didn’t she drop a few pounds?
For fans of Wendy’s off-center appeal, phony wackiness and homogenized looks may prove fatal. Yet I am convinced Wendy will become louder, wackier and more glamorous. That is the unavoidable fate of icons, seeing their unpredictable appeal congeal into a predictable imitation of itself.
Of course, as a replicable icon, the sky is the limit for Wendy. Why stop with ads and promotional appearances? I see guest shots on sitcoms. Better yet, a talk show. Wendy can do for Snapple what Rosie O’Donnell, another thick-waisted, urban-tongued Everygal, did for Ding-Dongs.
But the one role Wendy redux won’t play is Our Lady of the People’s Beverage, since Snapple isn’t the People’s Beverage anymore. It’s just another juice drink scrabbling for market share. Besides, the Snapple lady is no longer one of the people; she’s a self-made celebrity endorser. Wendy is not the best thing Triarc’s Snapple has going for it. She’s the only thing.
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