Does Skippy's new ad target stoners?

Advertising deconstructed.
Aug. 16 2004 10:49 AM

The Elephant in the Advertisement

Does Skippy's new spot target stoners?

Jamming for PB
Jamming for PB

The Spot: We've stumbled onto some sort of spring break for elephants. We see many busty young pachyderms, wearing tube tops, getting jiggy. Up on the beachside stage, "The Nutshells" (a group of elephant musicians) are pumping out a dancehall beat. They rap about new Skippy Peanut Butter Bars: "Skippy Peanut Butter, creamy goodness, so rich and so creamy!" (Click here to see the ad.)

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

I am at a loss. I'm not saying it's a bad commercial. I'm just saying it leaves me … puzzled. What are we to make of these computer-animated, 3-D, Rastafarian elephants?

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Despite repeated efforts over a period of weeks, I could not convince anyone at Skippy to get on the phone with me and explain this ad. So, we'll have to make do with this quote from the Unilever press release: " 'The Nutshells reinforce Skippy's brand personality of pure, unadulterated fun,' said Trish Zenobi, senior brand manager, Skippy Peanut Butter. 'With the introduction of the Nutshells, Skippy will continue to revitalize the peanut butter category as a brand for kids, moms and peanut-butter lovers everywhere!' "

Ms. Zenobi's enthusiasm is contagious. But it raises a question: I thought Skippy's brand was about wholesome momness and nutritious lunchtimes—not about "pure, unadulterated fun." Did Kid Rock join the corporate board? I'm still not clear on what this ad's message is, or who it's targeting, but I've come up with a few possibilities:

1) It's the launch of a new brand icon (à la the Travelocity Roaming Gnome). This would mean the Nutshells are here for the long haul, as the new face of Skippy. If so, big mistake. I'm already sick of good dancehall rap, performed by actual dancehall musicians. My tolerance for dancehall rap about peanut butter—performed by digitized elephants—was exhausted about four seconds into this ad.

2) Through careful consumer research and many focus groups, Skippy has determined that dancehall rap is the total bomb with the teens right now and hopes this ad will lend the brand a hipper profile. Teens will soon be wearing J'Phant T-shirts (he's the Nutshells' lead singer, according to the press release). It will be a phenomenon! Yes yes y'all, Skippy is down! Getting irie with the peanuts, brothers and sisters!

3) It's a weird-for-weird's-sake ad—there to draw attention to itself and to get people talking. We've seen a few of these lately. First, there were those Quiznos singing rats (which I liked, because I found them endearing, and because Quiznos is a growing brand that still needs to drum up attention). More recently, there's the Skittles ad with an eagle feeding a man in a nest (which I don't like, because it is neither humorous, provocative, nor charming, and instead is just willfully nonsensical).

4) The people at Crowd Management Strategies have their own ideas about the ad: Skippy is using "mayhem marketing" and luring young people "into dangerous and deadly activities made to look like innocent fun." Indeed, stage-diving—by a "two-ton behemoth," no less—is hardly a laughing matter! Shame on you, Skippy!

5) This ad targets small children. As far as they know, dancehall rap is cool. Ah, misguided youth. While I think this theory makes sense, it doesn't make quite as much sense as …

6) Skippy is targeting stoners. I think this is by far the most plausible explanation. My friend (who may or may not have been stoned himself—I make no assumptions) says he saw this ad at around 2 a.m. on the Cartoon Network. And I found a chat-board post about the ad from someone who says he saw it at 3:30 a.m. during a Conan rerun. First of all, why show the ad at these hours if the target is children? Second, I ask you this: What do high people love? Late-night television. What else do they love? Snacks. And? Freaky animation with talking animals, like Fritz the Cat and stuff. Finally, where does dancehall come from? Jamaica! See what I mean? If Skippy signs Harold and Kumar, we'll know for certain. And we'll also know what Trish Zenobi means by "pure, unadulterated fun."

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