A disgusting new All-Bran ad.

Advertising deconstructed.
Oct. 15 2007 7:26 AM

Bran Identity

A new and disgusting cereal ad that simulates human excretion.

The spot:A construction worker in a hard hat and orange vest stomps through a busy site with a box of All-Bran cereal, enumerating his problems "staying regular." As he extols the benefits of the All-Bran 10-day challenge (that's eating the cereal "once a day, for 10 days"), a variety of visual metaphors play out behind him: A steel I-beam is pulled out from a gap in a wall; some strategically placed barrels roll off a flatbed parked directly behind our narrator's derrière; a dump truck pulls up and unloads a ton of bricks. The spot ends with an image of brown bran shards, as an announcer says: "The All-Bran Challenge. Do it. Feel it." (Click here to see the ad.)

The visual puns in this ad are so bold—and so disgusting—that when I first saw it, I couldn't quite believe what I'd seen. I immediately went online to watch it again, thinking: Did those barrels actually plop out from behind that guy's butt?

When promoting products for our gastrointestinal tracts, advertisers have long tended to avoid direct references to the scatological: Toilet paper is squeezed or rubbed on faces to demonstrate its softness; adult diaper ads show seniors in engaging tennis matches; elaborate digital renderings of pulsating stomach linings evoke the effectiveness of digestive medicines. Why break with this trend and go with such a visceral campaign?

For one thing, there's been an increasing willingness to go beyond euphemism in recent ads: Consider the rise of brand icons like the Charmin bears (who ably answer the old question about what bears do in the woods) and the Kandoo frog, a character created by Pampers to promote its brand of flushable wipes. These characters are very frank and forthcoming about wiping their behinds (you can watch the Kandoo Frog do so online—just click on the box of flushable toilet wipes). But even these ads stop short of actually simulating human excretion.

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Which raises the question: Who is the All-Bran ad targeting? It begs to be watched over and over, and is filled with juvenile elements that seem designed to make Web-savvy youngsters giggle before e-mailing it along. (Indeed, the spot has notched more than 100,000 views on YouTube.) Could the company be banking on the viral element to bring young people to a brand more popular among older consumers? Is the ad a stealth effort to reach frat boys with dodgy digestive systems?

Nope. According to the company, it's an effort to charm constipated old people with a little frat-boy humor. Kellogg's spokeswoman Allison Costello said the ad's not geared toward the young: "All-Bran has always been marketed to adults and we have no plans to change our approach." All-Bran's target demographic is grown-ups—those 45 and older—and the spot is a nod to the fact that such people can still appreciate potty humor, even at their advanced age. "Talking about regularity is a really tough thing to do," admitted senior brand manager Matt Lindsay, who helped create the ad. "We liked the idea of leveraging visual metaphors to make it a more approachable subject."

More approachable? That's a bit of a stretch, given that online responses to the ad range widely, from those "aghast" that the censors allowed it, to some perhaps a bit too enthused: "It seems like everyone loves this commercial, and I do-do, too!"

"Inherently, given the subject matter, it's going to be a bit polarizing," Lindsay says. "You are going to get individuals who don't want to think about the functional effects of regularity. But we bring it to life in a little more subtle way. A lot of our consumers don't even notice the visual metaphors right away."

While the spot is hardly subtle (A dump truck unloading bricks? What, no kids being dropped off at a pool?), Lindsay does pinpoint the genius of the ad. It's funny, and it bears rewatching, and it's therefore memorable. Whether it will lead viewers to seek out the product in stores, I'm not sure about. But this witty spot may give Kellogg's a bit of an edge.

Grade: B+. Funny and crass, it's certainly gotten attention for the brand. A few caveats: I'm not sure whether the "Do it. Feel it." tag line at the end of the spot works. While invoking the immortal Nike slogan in this context is inspired, the announcer's overenunciated "Feeeel it" is just gross. And can we acknowledge that this is possibly the most unsafe construction site ever depicted on TV? What exactly was going on with that I-beam?

Janelle Nanos is an editor at National Geographic Traveler, where she edits the Intelligent Travel blog. She lives and writes in Washington, D.C.

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