NEW YORK Grey Poupon's famous "Pardon Me" TV commercial is returning for a moment of Oscar glory.
After a 16-year hiatus, the mustard that mocked its own stuffy image in one of TV's most famous commercials will once again take to the airwaves during the Academy Awards show on Feb. 24. The spot comes as Kraft Foods (KRFT) looks to boost sagging sales of the Dijon mustard, which is facing competition from a growing variety of high-end condiments on supermarket shelves.
The new ad begins in the same way as the original -- an aristocratic English gentleman is being chauffeured in the countryside, when another car pulls up alongside them at a stop. The back window rolls down and a second man asks in an over-the-top snooty accent, "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?"
The first man courteously responds, "But of course" and hands him a jar out the window.
In the new version, however, the scene continues with the second car speeding off without returning the mustard. A wild car chase through a golf course and city streets ensues, complete with explosions to make the spot look like a trailer for an action adventure movie.
The ad was made by the agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which has also developed ads for Domino's, Burger King and Best Buy. It was directed by Bryan Buckley, who is known for making more than 40 Super Bowl commercials.
Although the original Grey Poupon ad first aired in 1981, with variations of it running through 1997, it's become so ingrained in pop culture that even teenagers today are familiar with its general spirit, said Sara Braun, who heads Grey Poupon, Miracle Whip and Mayo at Kraft Foods.
The problem is that the familiarity with the commercial hasn't been doing much for sales. Over the past four years, the company says Grey Poupon's sales have been flat to down as more mustards and other condiments have appeared on the shelves. Its share of the U.S. mustard market has fallen from 13.7 percent in 2003 to 11.4 percent last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor. So now Kraft is hoping to once again put the mustard in the spotlight.
"Grey Poupon is not as relevant as it was," Braun said.
Kraft Foods Group Inc. plans to air the ad only once on TV, after which it will be available online. According to Kantar Media, a 30-second spot during the Oscars this year is estimated to cost $1.7 million. But Kraft, based in Northfield, Ill., is hoping the high-profile placement will help spark enough interest to engage people in online marketing campaigns.
"It's the classiest award show of the year, so it's very in line with the brand," said Braun, who noted that the marketing for the Dijon has always made fun of its own upper-crust image.
Last year, for example, Kraft began an online campaign with a members-only Facebook page called "The Society of Good Taste." Fans had to apply and have their profiles screened to determine whether they met the club's standards. For example, people were given points for liking the opera and New York Times, or living in Chicago or New York and attending Ivy League schools. Points were taken away if people used poor grammar in their posts.
Jokes aside, Braun said there's a seed of truth to that higher-end image; Grey Poupon customers tend to be skewed toward household incomes of $70,000 or more.