Kraft Zesty Italian Salad Dressing, Rock-Hard Abs Stir Controversy

Do you like your salad with a side of beefcake?

Kraft thinks you do. Its latest print ad campaign for Zesty Italian Dressing features a muscular man lying naked on a picnic cloth arranged strategically over his body. The tagline reads, “Silverware optional—Let’s get Zesty.”  Since April, the brand has embraced a new approach to selling salad dressing, relying on the talents of bare-chested spokesperson with a knack for turning cooking demos into seductive innuendo.

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A Kraft spokesperson told Yahoo! Shine, “We wanted to recognize our consumers as more than just moms, but also as women and give her a campaign that has her view Kraft salad dressings in a whole new way."

But not everyone's a fan of the extra zest. A nonprofit group, the faith-based organization One Million Moms (the same group behind a failed boycott of JCPenney and its openly gay spokeswoman Ellen DeGeneres), doesn’t exactly approve. This week, the group launched an online tirade against Kraft's campaign, calling it “the most disgusting ad we have ever seen Kraft produce” and asking consumers to urge the company to discontinue their campaign.

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That's not likely to happen. According to Kraft's rep, the response from consumers has been largely positive. There's evidence on Twitter to back up that claim. “I wouldn't mind getting zesty with that man in the Kraft Italian dressing commercial,” tweeted one fan.  “Pretty sure I just fell in love with the man in the Kraft zesty Italian dressing commercial so ya there's that,” wrote another

Kraft has produced four different television spots that have run since April starring the same male model. In one ad, he stirs salad dressing against the backdrop of a rustic-looking countryside. The butter on the table sizzles and melts (a result of being in proximity to the guy?). “You know once you go Italian,” he says, while the camera zooms in on the sausages he’s grilling, “you’ll never go back.” The kitchen then fills with steam. Other ads feature him slapping pizza dough and spinning salad seductively. Kraft also launched the website Let's Get Zesty and “Zestygrams," personalized e-cards featuring the shirtless model that can be sent over social media. Messages include “Talk flirty to me,” "Thinking of you,” and “Just for zest.”

The model, dubbed “the Zesty Guy" even has his own Twitter account with almost 7,000 followers. He’s been tweeting messages to his followers such as, “Anything for you, babe. Happy Friday,” “Fingers are for licking. Cooks are for kissing,” and “Marinate…all…night…long.”

To reach their target audience of women, ages 25-54, the brand's strategy is to "break up the status quo to talk with our female consumer in a more entertaining way; reaching her during 'me time' and using pop culture." 

Like it or not, pushing for shock value has become a popular advertising method. In April, discount chain Kmart surprised consumers with its 30-second “Ship My Pants” ad. The video opens with a customer standing in front of a Kmart employee, saying, “Ship my pants? Right here? Ship my pants? You’re kidding.” The employee responds, “You can ship your pants. Right here.” The customer’s wife chimes in, “Whoa. I may just ship my pants.” The camera pans to an elderly woman who says, “I just shipped my pants and it’s very convenient…” and so forth. You get the idea. Since it’s debut, the video has been seen more than 18 million times. The company followed up in May with its ad for a “big-gas discount” of 30 cent per gallon. And who could forget the hilarious and over-the-top-sexy “Old Spice Guy,” aka “The man your man could smell like” in ads featuring former NFL hunk Isaiah Mustafa?

“Back in the day, advertisements had to be safer and more family-friendly to make it onto television, but the Internet has allowed companies to be more risky,” said Peter Daboll, chief executive officer of advertising research agency Ace Metrix. “Social media campaigns that are meant to go viral are a method of gaining lots of views or creating buzz about a product, but they’re tricky to pull off.”

“It’s tough to strike the right balance between brand association, the viral component, and funny and engaging content,” he said. “Oftentimes, the product gets lost in the shuffle because the ad ends up feeling like a comedy routine that’s sponsored by the product instead of about the product itself.”

What’s more, just because an ad goes viral doesn’t mean it’s a success. “You can have a high attention score but low likability,” he said. “Meaning, people may watch your ad, but it doesn’t mean they enjoy it.”

And contrary to popular belief, sex doesn’t always sell. “For example, during this year’s Super Bowl, Calvin Klein ran an ad that featured a half-naked muscular male model. While 16-to-20-year-old women loved it,  women over 21 hated it. So you have to be careful with sex.”

As for Kraft's success with its new campaign, Daboll is wary. “It may be popular among 16-to-20-year-old girls but are they the ones buying the salad dressing? Probably not,” he said. “It’s surprising that Kraft would run an ad like this because they’re a pretty conservative brand. I’m not sure they went about this the right way.”

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