Some 40 years ago, Frank Perdue began making commercials, becoming one of the first corporate bigwigs to appear in ads for his product – one that he just happened to resemble.
The spots worked, in part, because Perdue came across as genuine and likable – even if it took a supposedly tough man to make a tender chicken.
The old Perdue ads came to mind recently with a New York Times report that a new set of commercials are planned, starring the late chicken man’s son and pitchman successor, Jim, and a bunch of company employees, in keeping with regular-folks approach. We also got to thinking about Frank Perdue with the rise of homemade commercial-making team Rhett & Link.
For the uninitiated, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have spent the last couple of years traveling the country, helping small businesses produce low-cost, goofy TV ads – many of which have enjoyed a life beyond local airwaves, earning viral status.
Thanks to YouTube, you don’t have to go to Corydon, IN to catch the commercial for the unfortunately named Butt Drugs pharmacy (“When I think drugs, I think Butt Drugs,” one customer declares). And you’ll never have to step into Ray’s Midbell Music in Sioux City, IA, to hear the mini rap about how it’s cool to play in the high school band (You may have to go to the prom alone/But that’s a sacrifice worth making to play the sousaphone).
We came to the show, which premiered last Friday, with some trepidation that it might be an excuse to mercilessly mock the humble business owners and local talent who are turned into stars of sorts. But like their commercials, Rhett and Link’s show is handled with humor and a certain affection for their subjects. It’s less a reality show than a humor-infused documentary where we learn about the folks who aren’t looking for 15 minutes of fame as much as 15 seconds in an ad to help their businesses.
The first episode’s primary characters – a woman who runs a dog transportation and exercise service (“Super Shmuttle”) and another who operates a cat sitting business (she claims to “speak cat”) – come across as eccentric, to be sure. But they’re treated respectfully by the ad makers, who take their job, learning about the businesses they’ve been tapped to promote.
We’re looking forward to Friday’s installment, which gives the back story to perhaps our favorite Rhett and Link work: the recent period costume-filled rap musical for Presidential Car Wash of North Hollywood, CA (I wrote the Declaration of Independence/I’m going to wax this minivan with a vengeance).
Rhett and Link, meanwhile, are spearheading the new LoCo (Local Commercial) Awards with prizes that include the George Washington outfit from the car wash spot. The contest, while clearly a promotion for the show, also can be seen as a celebration of the do-it-yourself spirit – even if can’t hurt to have a little help from a couple young, creative videomakers.
Frank Perdue had more than a little help – he hired a big-time ad firm to create the commercials that projected his down-home image. Rhett and Link, with their decidedly anti-Mad Men approach, give us something new and different to crow about. With Independence Day nearing, check out the patriotic-themed car wash video below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.