How Grey Poupon Recut the Mustard

CP+B fits old ad that wouldn't die into the brand's new revival

IDEA: Pardon me, are you a brand whose only real equity comes from a campy TV spot made 30 years ago that's been parodied to death in pop culture? Grey Poupon, of course, is exactly that brand. And that 1981 "Pardon Me" ad loomed large over Crispin Porter + Bogusky as it began rebuilding the Kraft Foods brand after 15 moribund years. "That was the first thing everybody was saying. When are you going to do 'Pardon Me'?" said CP+B creative director Robin Fitzgerald. "Of course, that was the first thing we loved about the brand, too." The agency came up with the umbrella idea that Grey Poupon was back to "Spread good taste" in a culture that had grown vulgar in its absence. After an initial Facebook effort (the Web being the biggest culprit of bad taste), agency and client looked to TV. "They asked for a Super Bowl spot," said Fitzgerald. "We figured, the Oscars are their Super Bowl. It's the classiest night." They knew they had to do something with "Pardon Me." But what?

COPYWRITING: The original ad ended on a freeze frame of the Grey Poupon jar being passed from one luxury car to another. The new ad was open ended—they just didn't want it to be a spoof. "We wanted something that lived up to the original spot and could be just as iconic and memorable," said executive creative director Jason Gaboriau. In the end, they chose a remake of sorts, but one that extends the story into a two-minute mini-epic, as the Grey Poupon borrower absconds with the jar—leading to a crazy car chase.

The vehicles turn out to be weaponized: One has a gun that shoots champagne corks; the other dumps caviar slicks in its wake. There are decorative-egg grenades and a golf-club sword fight. Eventually, both cars jump off a ramp and crash into a supermarket, where there's plenty of Grey Poupon for everyone. "It's a little more Matt Helm than James Bond," said Fitzgerald. The dialogue is comically snooty. "The tone has a cheek to it," said creative director Cameron Harris. "It's never too serious. Like when the one guy says, 'Time to pop some bubbly!' "

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Bryan Buckley shot the ad in four days on location and sets around Los Angeles. "He can handle the bigness of a production, especially with action material," said Harris. Buckley had the idea to crash the cars through the supermarket ceiling—though they had to do it twice, as one car got hung up the first time. He pushed the actors hard, and also bought into CP+B's vision for the look of the piece. Everything is vintage, from the props and costumes ("We raided Jason's wardrobe," Fitzgerald joked) to the degraded film quality—achieved by transferring it to VHS and back. "It's a bold thing to do, to shoot it on expensive cameras and then strip it away," said Harris. "But it makes it warmer. It transports you back."

TALENT: Instead of look-alikes, the agency went with actors who had a dry wit and could handle the physically demanding roles. "I especially like the older guy," Harris said. "He can be serious and dramatic, but it still comes off as funny. That's a subtle thing that's hard to find." One of the actors from the original has a cameo—he's the guy on the golf course who leaps out of the way of the speeding cars.

SOUND: The original music, Boccherini's famous string quintet, returns in the new ad before switching to a dramatic original score by JSM Music. Sound design was crucial in bringing the explosive car chase to life.

MEDIA: A :30 trailer was posted online and aired on the Oscars, pointing to the film at Short interviews with the characters are also posted to YouTube.


The original 1981 "Pardon Me" spot:


Recommended articles