Breyers: How Embarrassing

It was a cool assignment: Write a TV commercial to introduce Breyers ice cream to the West Coast. There was just one little catch. Okay, maybe not so little.

The most popular ice cream in California was called “Dreyer’s.” That’s right, Dreyer’s. And our brand was Breyers. Almost the exact same name. Oops!

What are the odds? Two ice creams that sound so much alike.

East Coast/West Coast Ice Cream Battle

This spot needed some finesse. Breyers was owned by Kraft. And you don’t win many fans when a corporate giant tries to muscle in on your favorite local ice cream – especially when it sounds like a cheap knockoff.

Here’s the good news. Breyers had its own street cred. It ruled the East Coast for over 100 years, rising from the cobblestone streets of my hometown, Philadelphia. (Cue theme music from “Rocky.”)

So, What’s the Inside Scoop?

Tell a great product story. And we had all the right ingredients: milk, fruit, sugar and cream. You see, Breyers is an all-natural ice cream. Dreyer’s isn’t. And folks from Cali seem inordinately interested in what they put into their bodies. (Conversely, in Philly, we eat cheesesteaks.)

I titled the commercial “Embarrassed Man,” a self-aware reference to the market situation. At long last, Breyers comes all the way to California – only to find another ice cream with an almost identical name. Sheesh!

Finding the “Embarrassed Man”

The script had a light comedic touch. The impact had brass knuckles. And we had just the right guy to deliver it – the talented Fred Neuman.

Among his many roles in film and television, Fred Neuman would go on to become the sound-effects artist on Garrison Keillor’s live radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Biggie Score on Recall Test

Major clients, like Kraft, often test their commercials to make sure their message is breaking through. Happily, the “Embarrassed Man” TV spot scored a record high in an ASI Day-After Recall Test, which measures how many viewers remember the commercial the next day.

Truth be told, I used an old-school, ad-biz trick to boost my chances – the infamous “Burke Opening.”

Madison Avenue Trick: the “Burke Opening”

When I started working in New York, veteran agency copywriters would grouse about the “Burke Opening.” The phrase originated from a company called Burke Marketing Research, which tested commercials for their memorability.

Burke preached that when commercials opened with an outrageous, jaw-dropping scenario, people remembered them.

And since all clients want their commercials to be remembered, some would insist that their scripts start with a Burke Opening.

The Dirty Low Down

How low will a copywriter go for a high TV test score? Judge for yourself. Here’s my favorite example of a commercial with an unabashed and unapologetic Burke Opening. Watch the first few seconds and try to look away. (See? It’s shamelessly irresistible. Just what the client ordered.)

Channeling the Classic Burke

I confess. I wrote a soft pedal version of a Burke Opening to get a high recall score on my Breyer’s spot:

OPEN ON dramatic CLOSE-UP of a MAN, flustered and sheepish. TO CAMERA, he reluctantly admits, “Um, It’s a little embarrassing…”

Gotcha! No matter what comes next, you’re zoomed in. What’s embarrassing? Somebody screw up? What’s going on here?

The rest of the spot unfolds in a conventional way: talking head, ingredient comparison, ice cream slowly scooped and an obligatory bite ‘n’ smile. There’s even a mention at the end that Breyer’s is spelled with a “B” to further differentiate it from Dreyer’s. Take a look.

Coast to Coast Success

The West Coast rollout hit like a tsunami, establishing Breyers as a true national brand in the Kraft portfolio. For Kraft President/CEO Tom Herskovits, it was a cherry on top.

Creative Supervisor/Copywriter: Joseph Ehlinger. Senior Art Director: Tom Kostro. Creative Director: Brian Dillon. Producer: Hal Mathews. Director: Mike Cuesta. Talent: Fred Neuman. Agency: Young & Rubicam. Client: Breyers ice cream (Kraft)

This commercial was archived with the help of the Paley Center for Media. Please support their efforts to preserve and celebrate our extraordinary media history.

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