Back when Combat! blog was young and wild, we discussed Miracle Whip’s “Don’t be so mayo” campaign, which positioned the Depression-era mayonnaise alternative as a uniquely millennial condiment. On the heels of that success, Chicago’s mcgarrybowen agency has launched the “Miracle Whip and proud of it” campaign, which further distinguishes the Kraft sandwich lube consumer from the man in the gray flannel suit. The ad above, entitled “Drew’s sandwich,” reminds us that Miracle Whip aficionados live in a kind of shadow society, a fraternity of outlaws who acknowledge one another with smoldering looks. Miracle Whip is for badasses. Put it in your mouth and shut up.
If we accept, as we did in 2009, that modern advertising culture seeks to make buying stuff an act of individuation, this ad is perfect. Just sitting in a diner waiting for his hamburger, our man Drew looks to be on the verge of an antisocial episode.
At :06, he and the cook exchange what can only be described as wary looks. They know that respect must be earned, and while neither would, say, set upon the other with a mother-of-pearl folding knife he got from
his grandfather Etsy, each is prepared to do so. By :09, the cook is locked in a staredown with Drew even as he mixes slaw, while Band of Skulls’ “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” plays in the background.
Here’s a diner tip: don’t glare at the cook until he’s done preparing your food, unless you’re just totally used to paying the price for your rugged individualism/beard. Drew has paid that price a thousand times over, to the point where even ordering and eating a hamburger expresses his particular brand of defiant Drewmanity. This is the premise that the first ten seconds of the ad set up: Drew is fascinating and a little dangerous, and he is about to consume Miracle Whip.
But—and this is important—Drew is not a bad guy. This spot is not about Richard Speck having a hamburger and then leaving a 15-cent tip before he returns to his Greyhound. Drew is the kind of nonconformist whom other nonconformists recognize, and the other characters in this ad recognize the hell out of him.
The same force that prevents the cook from looking away exerts its pull on Drew’s server, who gives him a tired but hopeful half-smile at :15. She is well-cast, both for her youthfully exhausted look and for her ability to convey guarded, animal longing in 1.5 seconds of screen time. Drew’s waitress has been hurt before, but she’s willing to try again, provided he continues to be this cool and mysterious.
Also he is wearing a pretty thick gold bracelet. The significance of Drew’s jewelry is ambiguous: he might just be doing a Black Keys/Crows beard rocker thing, or it might be an indicator of class. I submit that for this commercial to work, Drew must occupy a different socioeconomic stratum from the waitress and cook. For one thing, Miracle Whip does not want to position itself as the mayonnaise substitute for poor people. But more importantly, Drew’s appreciation for Kraft sandwich spread must be an occasion for admiration. And for a middle-class dude who is rugged and cool, whose admiration is more meaningful than that of an attractive diner waitress and a black man?
That admiration is forthcoming; it’s the payoff of the commercial. After he smells his dish of cole slaw like effing Wolverine, Drew puts it on top of his burger. Worlds crash and realign themselves. The guitar riff kicks in. The cook slings his rag over his shoulder and smiles with satisfaction: this potentially sociopathic diner patron knows what’s up. Drew leers at him as best he can with a mouthful of ground beef and emulsified oils, and then he blows the commercial entirely.
At :29, as the voice over urges us toward Miracle Whip and the camera pulls back, Drew takes a picture of his hamburger. His camera is fashionably analog, but he is still committing the fundamental crime of contemporary hipness: he is photographing his lunch. It is at once a clear indicator of the demographic to which this spot is pitched and a breaking of the frame. Chief Creative Officer Ned Crowley knows that millennials share pictures of their food, but he evidently does not know that such behavior is synecdoche for what sucks about modern life.
And it blows Drew’s mystique. Thus far, he has been a good-looking loner who plays by his own rules. When he whips out his camera, we suddenly get the sense that A) he has friends outside this diner, and B) he cares what they think. The appearance of the camera puts Drew in the same relation to his unseen friends as the commercial occupies in relation to us: he looks like he does not give a fudge, but he desperately wants to be thought of that way. The dream is broken. Drew is just another poseur, and Miracle Whip is just another mayonnaise. Now I don’t believe in anything.