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Groucho Again In A Pickle

If the Vlasic pickle commercial that starts running next month looks familiar, you may be showing your age.

Vlasic Foods International dug into its commercial archive in developing ad plans for this fall and discovered it had a 25-year-old commercial featuring the voice of Groucho Marx that still resonates with consumers.

The animated ad shows a cartoony grandmother, schoolboy and husband each taking a bite of a Vlasic pickle and then imitating Marx's distinctive voice and style in saying "Now that's the best tasting pickle I've ever heard."

Groucho Marx in 1933.

Diana Robina, head of programming for Viacom's TV Land cable network that carries a steady diet of program and commercial reruns to 42 million subscribers, said old commercials "hit an emotional chord with the viewer."

That is important to advertisers who are finding it tougher to stand out amid the clamor of traditional TV advertising.

"People do stop and watch them," she said, referring to the old ads TV Land regularly carries without charge to the original advertisers, some of whom aren't around to pay anyway.

Several paying advertisers have recently brought back retired advertising icons like Charlie the Tuna for StarKist and Mr. Whipple for Charmin. Others, like Maxwell House and Life cereal, have used parts of old ads in new commercials.

But advertising executives were hard-pressed to name another advertiser who has brought back an old commercial decades after it had been run and used it again without alterations.

"We had planned to remake the ad, but when we tested it with consumers, it scored so well we decided not to reinvent the wheel," said Vlasic marketing executive Joe Adams.

He said about 15 percent of the people who were shown the ad remembered its run which began and ended in 1974. He said they mentioned they liked both the humor and the nostalgic feelings it evoked in them about their youth.

But it also scored well in the tests with viewers who either didn't remember it or were too young to have seen it the last time it ran.

"It worked literally as well today as it worked back then," Adams said.

Vlasic, which is based in Cherry Hill, N.J., intends to spend $5 million to $10 million to run the ad in November and December on a mix of network, cable and syndicated TV programs. In addition to the original 30-second version, it has created a 15-second version using the same material. The ads may continue into the new year if they are well received.

The company is also sponsoring a contest to find a Goucho Marx-imitator whose voice will be used in its next ad.

Vlasic pickles have been the best-selling brand since 1978, the company says, accounting for about 32 percent of the $800 million market last year.

By Skip Wollenberg

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