The Spot: Thick as Thieves

CP+B evolves its Kraft Mac & Cheese campaign with the pilfering parents and the knowing kids

IDEA: After running the same Macaroni & Cheese ad campaign for a decade, Kraft shook things up in 2010, shifting the target from children to parents. "We needed to give adults a little more permission to be eating it," svp of marketing Chris Kempczinski told Adweek last fall. The solution, ironically, was a Crispin Porter + Bogusky campaign that focused even more on kids—exasperated ones who complain to the camera about Mom and Dad stealing Mac & Cheese right off their plates. "The insight was that parents really love this stuff," CP+B executive creative director Adam Chasnow said last week. "But it's the kids, not the parents, who know what's going on. It's a kind of testimonial role reversal." The campaign is now into its third round of work, with four new spots in 2012 that stay true to the initial strategy but offer novel characters and plot twists.

COPYWRITING: The ads are comic set pieces in the Modern Family mold—wry takes on family life with parents who are just as fallible as their offspring. In one new spot, a child sleeping at a friend's house has brought pots and pans from home so his folks can't have Mac & Cheese without him. "This time I took precautionary measures," he explains. Two other spots characterize the stealing as learned behavior. In one, a grandfather steals from a father who steals from his son. In another, a boy pilfers from his sister. "I learned it by watching you!" the choked-up boy shouts when confronted by his dad. (CP+B would not comment on a certain 1980s anti-drug PSA that seems to have inspired that spot.) The plots are exaggerated but not cartoony. "We know how family dinners go down," said executive creative director Tony Calcao. The tagline is, "You know you love it."

ART DIRECTION/SOUND: The ads—shot with anamorphic lenses and letterboxed, with overly dramatic music— have a cinematic look and feel. This adds to the comedy but also gives the budget brand an aura of quality. "Let's face it, it sells for, what, $1.29 at the store?" said Calcao. "We wanted to bring some production values to it. The food section at the end looks really nice. Why not continue that throughout the body of the commercial?" Most of the scenes take place after nightfall—a good time for dark humor, but also a subtle repudiation of feel-good ads that pretend family dinners happen in the late afternoon. In another stab at realism, the product is modestly presented as a side dish, not the main course.

FILMING: Stacy Wall shot the early ads; Hank Perlman filmed the most recent ones. All of them were filmed on location at houses with a modern feel—first in New York, more recently in Los Angeles. The color grade is warm, as you would expect for food ads.

TALENT: The approach is offbeat, so the actors are, too. The children are "cute in their own way, not in a traditional way," said Chasnow. Since 2011, the voiceover at the end, famously, is Ted Williams—the homeless man with the golden voice discovered panhandling in Ohio in late 2010. CP+B made him the voice of the brand, which was a huge PR coup but also improved the spots. "The guy's voice is huge, just huge," said Chasnow. "He lightens things up tremendously—at the end of these overdramatized ads—because he's got such a jovial, big sound. It makes you feel like there's something magical about the brand."