Can Funny Balding Child Revive Jell-O?

New campaign tries to 'fun things up,' but will it work?

Aug. 13, 2013 -- If you haven't thought a lot about Jell-O lately, it turns out you're not alone.

The Kraft Foods Group soon will be fixing that. In fact, they started fixing it yesterday, unveiling the first in what will be a series of new commercials extolling the cold, wiggling, gelatinous, green (if it isn't red) and red (if it isn't green) comestible.

Advertising Age reports that Kraft's gelatin desert mix sales have fallen in the past 12 months, the result in part of substantially reduced ad spending by Kraft. Dan O'Leary, Kraft's senior director for desserts, tells ABC News that Jell-O, having spent a few years in relative eclipse, will in coming weeks emerge from behind the clouds like Phoebus Apollo--that is, if Apollo had pectin.


It would be wrong, says O'Leary, to think Jell-O is not still big. It's huge, he says, the biggest star in Kraft's dessert firmament, dwarfing Jet-Puffed Marshmallows. Its sales, he says, are "significantly bigger" than Cool Whip's.

It's just that Americans aren't eating as much dessert as they once did. NPD Group, a consumer market research firm, says dinners featuring desert, considered as a fraction of total dinners, have fallen to 13.8 percent—a 25-year low. At a time when Americans demand convenience as never before, there's no getting around the fact that you have to boil water and stir to make Jell-O.

In this changed landscape, Jell-O, like the young James Dean in "Giant," has had to struggle to find its identity—that is, if James Dean were derived from collagen and brittle when dry.

Kraft in the early 2000's shifted the focus of Jell-O's advertising away from kids and toward adults, says O'Leary. It pitched sugar-free Jell-O, for example, as a treat for Atkins dieters. But in the past few years, he says, the Atkins diet has slipped in popularity, taking Jell-O down with it, much like the doomed liner Titanic--that is, if the Titanic came in grape flavor.

All this, of course, is preamble. The story now: How Jell-O intends to get its groove back.

Jell-O's new commercials, done by Miami ad agency CP&B, focus on kids, families and fun. "Fun things up," exhorts the campaign's tag-line.

If the first commercial--now posted on YouTube--is any indication, the rest promise to be funny and imaginative. "The idea behind the whole campaign is imagination," confirms O'Leary.


In the YouTube spot, a balding, middle-aged dad and his young son sit around the kitchen table, the two of them enjoying some Jell-O pudding. The boy asks why the dad likes Jell-O so much.

"Well," begins the dad, "imagine waking up each morning with a little less hair..."

He goes on to describe the indignities of middle-aged life—having to fight the morning commute traffic, only to get to the office and find that the boss has cancelled the project he's been working on for a year.

As he speaks, we see (in the kid's imagination) the kid suffering these same insults: a tiny, balding 5-year-old struggling to see over the wheel as he fights traffic, the boss later tearing up the comic he's been coloring for a year.

Explains the dad: It's only the taste of Jell-O pudding that makes it all bearable.

"Here," says the kid, pushing his pudding across the table. "You need this more than me."

Well, maybe you had to be there.

In any event, the kid, by giving away his Jell-O to his dad, shows himself to be uncommonly generous—as generous, one might almost say, as was William Randolph Hearst in giving away to the people of California his San Simeon estate--that is, if San Simeon, when mixed with boiling water, poured into a mold and cooled, assumed the shape of the mold.