Jeff Goldblum loves everything about cooking, but he can’t fry an egg or pit an avocado. And his knife skills? They could use some work.
Still, he’s a real pro at engaging, off-the-cuff conversation in the kitchen, which is why grocery giant Kroger chose the lanky, erudite actor to star in digital series Cooking With Jeff, a collaboration with Funny or Die.
The second episode, debuting Tuesday, features the brand, a few of its Southern California employees, Goldblum’s considerable improvisational skills and his Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom co-star Bryce Dallas Howard in a quirky 11-minute video.
Goldblum’s highlights include ruining a sunny-side-up egg (he didn’t oil the pan), dropping a piece of avocado toast on the floor and charmingly peppering Howard with oddball questions and pop culture references.
For the buttoned-up Midwest-based grocer (2,800 stores, 9 million daily brick-and-mortar customers), it’s the first brush with Hollywood celebrity and “a big pivot” in its marketing, said Stuart Aitken, Kroger’s group vice president and CEO of its 84.51° analytics firm.
“It didn’t feel risky, it felt real,” Aitken said. “He’s a unique character who’s authentic and well-liked.”
Goldblum, a passionate foodie and frequent ad pitchman, launched Cooking With Jeff this spring with Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold as the first guest. The 15-minute vignette logged 1 million views in its first 24 hours, with a cumulative tally of 5.5 million to date.
“Cooking has become cool again,” Aitken said, “and Jeff is the quintessential cool guy.”
Results from the first video, along with social listening (11,000-plus Facebook likes, viewer requests for more episodes, coverage in food and entertainment media), made the sequel “a no-brainer,” Aitken said.
Like other brands in the category, Kroger has broadened its definition of advertising, working with digital influencers, food bloggers and publishers like BuzzFeed and Tasty. The company, which owns Food 4 Less and Fred Meyer, among other chains, plans to push further into original content with entertainment at its core, Aitken said.
The partnership with Funny or Die is intended to inject both human and tech elements into the grocery environment, sending Goldblum into a Ralph’s market in Sherman Oaks, Calif., to shop, use the retailer’s app and chat with managers and cashiers.
“This is ultimately a talk show, and Jeff has such a natural curiosity and is so good at interacting with people,” said Brian Toombs, vp, digital at Funny or Die, which has a high hit-rate for its talent and marketer matchmaking. “We’ve treated it like a short TV episode.”
That involves a recurring character, Chris the cheese master, who this time around schools Goldblum on manchego cheese and gamely tries to sing along to a tune from Don Quixote. Goldblum, who’s also a musician, is prone to burst into song and cite famous, or obscure, musicals during the videos.
The setting is also a repeat performer. The cast and crew returned to the same suburban L.A. home to shoot the second video on a recent Saturday afternoon, with Goldblum again inferring on camera that it’s not actually his lovely Colonial-style house.
Howard, who confessed that, like her host, she’s not a seasoned cook, helped Goldblum assemble an Instagrammable small feast on a wooden serving board. For the cooked portions, like roasted artichokes, stunt doubles were involved.
Their loosely scripted conversation during the process plays an important role in showing food as an experience and a way to bring people together, Kroger execs said.
The video purposely goes light on selling, and the stars aren’t brand shills in the traditional sense.
It doesn’t skimp on comedy, though, with the stars debating the pronunciation of the word smorgasbord—does it start with a “shh” sound?—and Howard belly laughing at Goldblum’s rapid-fire puns and culinary fails.
The partners haven’t decided if they’ll release outtakes or behind-the-scenes snippets, but those could include Goldblum singing selected cuts from The Music Man, name-checking Buster Keaton, talking smack about Brazil nuts (“I just don’t understand them”) and describing his personality in deli terms (“I’m on open-faced sandwich”).
The video will get distribution on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube, Aitken said, that cover a range of demographics, including hardcore foodies and millennials who may have little or no experience cooking.
“For us, this is about seeing the brand in a new light and connecting with customers in an innovative way,” Aitken said. “And we think it makes food fun and approachable.”