Jan. 29, 2013 -- Yes, but can he sell pistachios? That's the question that will weigh on the minds of nut-fanciers and TV ad execs alike until Super Bowl Sunday, when viewers will get their first glimpse of the South Korean pop star Psy pitching nuts.
Psy has accomplished much already in his career.
His music video, "Gangnam Style," has proved to be a blockbuster hit on YouTube, generating at least $8 million in related advertising deals, as reported by ABC News. Google says the video has had some 1.23 billion views — an unprecedented number. No less a fan than President Obama has expressed admiration for Psy's dance moves, which include a kind of playful gallop, of the sort a child with a hobby horse would make.
Psy has not previously sold nuts.
The company responsible for hiring him and for making the commercial is California's Paramount Farms, world's largest supplier of pistachios and almonds. Not irrelevant to Psy's selection, says Paramount, is the fact that South Korea represents a $38 million market for California nut- growers.
A free trade agreement signed in 2007 has removed tariffs, making that market more crackable.
Marc Seguin, V.P. of marketing for Paramount Farms, calls South Korea an important customer. Paramount's choice to star South Korea's biggest celebrity in its commercial, he says, ties in nicely.
Seguin declines to say how much has been spent on the ad, but calls it by far the biggest expenditure by the company on a single advertisement.
Its content must remain, for now, a closely guarded secret. But Seguin was willing to discuss the commercial in general terms with ABC News.
What will viewers see?
"They will see Psy as they know him," said Seguin, "with his personality and great moves. They will see the same 'Gangnam Style' action that has swept the nation. They will see him opening pistachios the way only he could." The star will wear a pistachio-green suit.
Paramount's existing advertising campaign, called "Get Crakin','' previously has depicted big name celebrities including Snoop, the Village People and Homer Simpson and boxer Manny Pacquiao. In each video vignette, the celebrity is shown opening nuts in a way that fits comfortably with his image. The little clip featuring Pacquiao, for instance, has him working a suspiciously nut-shaped green speed bag, which, as he gives it a final lethal punch, explodes to spew little nuts. The tag-line: "Manny Pacquiao does it with a knockout punch."
Why not use Manny for the Super Bowl? "Manny's been great for us," said Seguin. "He's a great celebrity. But the truth is, Psy is the hottest personality on the planet right now. His irreverence sits nicely with our ads. And he's got so much social media presence -- he's gold in the social media space."
How, then, will Psy be opening his nuts?
Seguin cannot say. "But I can tell you this: If his video made you smile and laugh, our commercial will make you smile and laugh. We think it will be the talk of the next day."
The addition of pistachios to the national dialog would be a new thing.
Why them, and not some other nut?
"We grow almonds, too," said Seguin, with a note of what you, if you were an almond, might hear as condescension. "But from our standpoint, we felt that pistachios were a nut that hadn't gotten its fair share of 'voice' in the market." In other words, almonds are on the map already. Pistachios have more upside.
They also have, Paramount asserts, unique health attributes.
Dominic Engels, a Paramount marketing executive, says pistachios have moved to the nut forefront because of their healthful properties. Nutritionists, Paramount asserts, consider them "the next nut." Releases from the company cite various benefits related to heart-health, weight loss and plentiful antioxidants.
Roll Global, the parent company of Paramount, has made health and wellness arguments a central part of its marketing. The company also makes and markets POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. In 2010 the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint alleging that the health claims for POM Wonderful were false and unsubstantiated.
POM, for its part, fired back, arguing that the FTC overstepped its authority and saying that it will appeal the order in federal court.