Barbara Lippert: Friendly’s Must Be Kidding

Here I go, ferociously beating up on cute little kiddies and sad-eyed doggies.
But it’s not often that a commercial pops up that’s so bad it’s hard to believe it’s not a relic from the Reagan era. (Wasn’t that when dogs wore ties?)

Yup, it’s morning again in this Friendly’s spot, and a young Alex Keaton, complete with shirt and tie (loosely tied) and a cardboard “cell phone” on his belt, has created a marketing presentation to convince his mom, in his own words, that “A real meal can be a real value.” Doesn’t every 8-year-old child you know spontaneously speak the brief?

It’s certainly not the young actor’s fault that they did him up like Ray, the kid in Jerry Maguire with the wire rim glasses and moussed up hair, who announces, “The human head weighs 8 pounds.” (OK, that was 1996. He also looks like the kid in A Christmas Story from 1983.)
Never mind surprising or funny — if only this kid could say anything remotely human. “Some experts believe it’s the ice cream,” he says. “But we know it’s also a great value!” In addition to the painfully forced and unbelievably fake “presentation” setup, the kid is directed to overact — and smile and bob his head so aggressively — that even the king of fake presenters, Bewitched hubby and adman Darren Stevens, would be embarrassed for the loss of integrity in the portrayal of his industry.
Did I add that there was a cut from out of nowhere showing the red-faced head of a demonically smiling dad? Is he supposed to be “the power behind the thrown,” hiding behind the Fisher-Price easel or something? Surely this is some new form of child abuse, then.

Speaking of the easel, this marketing-Twilight Zone kid has produced some adorable Venn diagrams in primary colors. In his carefully art-directed chicken-scratch, he has deduced that a trip to the home of the Fribble is where “Friendly’s,” “value” and “mom’s happiness” intersect. My head is reeling from this kid’s algebraic assessment of women’s needs. (His li’l sis remains silent, however.) As another page of his presentation points out, it’s “a match made in value.” Whatever that means. These kids today and their crazy talk!
In the beginning, mom sits tapping at a laptop computer, the single detail that suggests that this spot could possibly take place in the near present, and sonny boy asks for her attention to make his marketing magic. Needless to say, the presentation is such a hit that mom responds with the trademark tagline, “I want to go to Friendly’s!” She has some kind of weird lisping thing going on in her mouth, so that when she’s shown pronouncing the line, we get the only natural moment on screen in the entire spot.
I know the economy is brutal, and that restaurants like Friendly’s have been especially hard hit. So maybe this is so bad it’s genius. Perhaps the grandparents of America will start feeling nostalgic for that fabled supply-side, “trickle-down” economy, and get the urge to pump it up by taking the kids to Friendly’s for a sundae with sprinkles. Either that, or the kid next moves on to selling a Ponzi scheme.

Nielsen Business Media

Publish date: October 12, 2009 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT