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    Rah-rah for Yiayia!

    In case you haven’t heard the ruckus, Kraft has launched a real gem of a marketing campaign for its Athenos brand of hummus and Greek-style yogurt.

    The food giant says the campaign takes a stand on foods made the traditional Greek way, with a fun and unique creative concept. The TV spots, partly filmed in Greece with locally cast actors, are centered on yiayias – traditional Greek grandmothers whose strong opinions and old-school mentalities create awkward tension in modern scenarios.

    Unfortunately, the campaign has also created some awkward tension between Kraft and folks who say the spots display unfair and offensive stereotypes. They are edgy and a bit shocking, but I doubt many beyond an ultrasensitive few will find them offensive. You won’t soon forget them, that’s for sure.

    For example, in the “Party” spot, an announcer (with flawless timing) interrupts Michelle, who is serving Athenos hummus to her party guests, to ask Yiayia what she thinks about the party food choice. Yiayia instead comments, shall we say, unfavorably on Michelle’s attire. Oh, what the heck – Yiayia says Michelle dresses like a prostitute, a remark that leaves the young woman slack-jawed and stunned.

    In another spot, the announcer interrupts a young couple having a breakfast of Athenos Greek yogurt to ask Yiayia her opinion. When the couple confirm they are not married but living together, Yiayia informs them they’ll be going to hell, despite their superior yogurt choice.

    Rounding out the campaign, the third spot features the announcer interrupting a man who is making an afternoon snack of Athenos hummus for his kids. Asked what she thinks about his snack food choice, Yiayia instead expresses her disapproval of the fact that in this family the woman works and the man stays at home. “You the wife,” she tells him.

    These are some of the most humorous, inventive and well-executed TV spots I’ve seen in a long time. They don’t reinforce negative stereotypes; the spots create scenarios with which folks of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds can identify.

    Affectionately judgmental old-world matriarchs are not restricted to the Greek culture. I’ll wager most of us grew up with relatives like this or have friends who did. These spots could have just as easily been made for other ethnic products with, say, Italian or Polish grandmothers. Heck, I’d love to see commercials like this with Czech or Lithuanian grandmas – I’d bust a gut – but I’m not aware of any mass-market food products from my ancestral homelands.

    The point is – with all the competition for share of stomach, it’s creative, innovative marketing like this that’s going to get consumers excited about products and send them running into your stores. When they get there, you’d better have your cross-marketing programs set up to steer them all over your market in search of complementary products.

    Hey, how about having Yiayia host your next sampling event: “You hungry? No? OK, just have two …”

    Jim Dudlicek is senior editor of Progressive Grocer.

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