I should have seen it coming. The buzz of ‘Downton Abbey.’ The 76-page Ralph Lauren catalog that arrived last week – Ralph looking most un-cowboy-ish behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, British flag on the door, RL girls posed, now on raked gravel courtyards in impeccable tweeds, now on horseback in black velvet evening dress, the fine saddle leather a dreamy contrast and rhinestone collar providing a certain edge. Restoration Hardware’s tome also arrived, reeking of Manor–upstairs and down, plus adjacent stables.
Then Elizabeth Olson of The New York Times reported that Grey Poupon’s Facebook-based “Society of Good Taste” was about to go exclusive.
“Starting Wednesday, in a new advertising campaign on Facebook, would-be fans can have their profiles checked to see whether their proper use of grammar, taste in art, restaurant check-ins, books read and movies selected combine for a score high enough to merit membership in the Grey Poupon ‘Society of Good Taste.’”
From Rolls to DijonGate ’08 to Miracle Whip.
Who of a certain age does not remember the “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” of the original early 1980s television commercial? Or appreciated the later version: in one Rolls, Ian Richardson, evil Tory politician Francis Urquhart in “House of Cards,” in another “Yes, Prime Minister” actor Paul Eddington in need of mustard. Convincing Americans that a plastic squeeze bottle of Grey Poupon is A-OK was oh so easy: Is that Grey Poupon on your weiner?
A 2004 New Yorker piece (“The Ketchup Conundrum”) tells the great story of how these commercials and print ads created by Lowe Marschalk convinced Americans to switch from bright yellow French’s to the real French Grey Poupon. Actually, it was by then made in Connecticut with New York State wine, and there was no proof that anyone in the U.K. actually used it to spice up anything whatsoever, but who cared? “By the end of the nineteen-eighties Grey Poupon was the most powerful brand in mustard,” ends the mustard section of the piece, which goes on to tell a sad tale in which one poor bloke seeks and fails to find the Holy Grail – the Grey Poupon of ketchup.
And who can forget DijonGate of 2008, in which then-candidate Barack Obama ordered a burger, politely requesting mustard, and very specifically for “a spicy mustard or something like that, or a Dijon mustard, something like that.” A Grey Poupon fan, I purchased an extra jar as the hay was made with that!
So the news that this particular mustard brand was emerging from its low profile in the marketing world to defend its market share (a second-place 12.6 percent in a saturated market of mostly oldsters) by rejecting wannabe Facebook fans was intriguing. Adding spice to the news, sister brand Kraft Miracle Whip recently engaged in risky behavior on Twitter and has current TV commercials featuring a dark and tortured village square scene remixing Hawthorn’s The Scarlet Letter (the new red MW replacing the “A”) with a generic Salem witch hunt.
Others were intrigued and jumped on the story. In all the coverage, only the Whopper Sacrifice campaign, also created by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the creators of the new Grey Poupon Facebook campaign, is called out as something remotely similar. That campaign challenged fans to dump their Facebook friends for the Whopper. They did, although Facebook put a swift end to the fun.
The Baroness of Banality. Are You Talk’n to Me?
Confident in both my grammar and my good taste in condiments, I decided to sample the experience that Grey Poupon was serving up. One week after the campaign began (with an existing fanbase of about 22,000 according to reports), I “Liked” The Society of Good Taste and the application process began.
A charming app, in which I was seated behind a group of judges viewing a screen, scoured my Facebook page. Everything whizzes by – photos were commented on too quickly to take notes, but the judges did seem to like one photo of our chocolate Lab on his surfboard. Fiery political links and comments from like-minded friends appeared as well. A sour observation that I should get “out and about” more often gave me pause, but then it was over.
“The Baron of Banality” (to which I snapped, Baroness to you!) headed the statement: “You’re in the 33rd PERCENTILE” (no period, a word in all caps) above a paragraph, written in faux-Euro/Brit, inviting reapplication after a finishing school course or visit to a museum or “online literary hub.” (I take my Trotsky solo, thanks).
Stunned. What was it? Why had I failed this test?
“LOL” is reportedly frowned on, and I’ve used that twice. OK, two of three restaurant check-ins were to an establishment known as Liar’s Saloon, but surely… No, it was true.
The Baron of Banality notice and all the gory details had been auto-posted to my Facebook page – and had already been “liked” by one of my exclusive group of 53 friends.
Retaliation (Engagement?) and The Return for More Abuse
I swear it was only to grab a screenshot of the judges oohing at the chocolate Lab on the surfboard that made me decide to reapply the very next day.
Long story short, as soon as the app started, my new computer froze. I let out a few choice words and waited. Ten seconds later, an acceptance letter — my PERCENTILE had jumped to 68! How had this happened?
I’ll admit to two things that may have convinced the judges. Immediately after being rejected, I – for the first time mind you – engaged on Facebook with a brand. No way was The Mustard getting away scot free. Not when a large jar of Grey Poupon had been laid in just last week. So, as can be seen above, I had responded to the notice posted by The Society with a comment: I’m All Shook Up! and threw in a video of Elvis singing the same to a crowd of screaming girls for good measure.
And, to demonstrate my good taste, I had also shared a lovely photo of a mountain with my Facebook friends, adding the elegant comment “Oh to be there.” This was heart felt — it is my favorite Colorado mountain – so I felt no shame. A friend’s unsolicited “It’s beautiful” reply doubled the impact.
Other than that, my post-rejection Facebook activity quickly returned to normal as I forgot myself and used “dag rat it” once, and “wing nut” appeared in a reply comment. Another friend’s “Pray that this lead holds until the election” may have been what really clinched membership in The Society on second try.
Critique, Questions and Predictions
(1) The app itself is fun and well done. My only gripe is that now I’m a member and can’t go back for that screen shot of the judges critiquing my Labrador on his surfboard.
(2) Will rejected fans return that unopened jar of Dijon? Or take their rejections in good humour as they reach for the gold?
(3) The whole point of this campaign is to get young people engaged with America’s faux-French mustard via a centuries-old, secret love affair with all things British. The original wildly successful appeal made advertising history. This Facebook campaign will not live up to the same standards of class. The Rolls are gone. The Prime Minister is gone. Some of the judges (we see only their silhouetted backs) could be the butler and the chambermaid from the shape of the hats. Further, the very first “perk” — already on its way — is a tote bag.
(4) Something’s up with that algorithm. From the gutter of 33rd percentile to 68 with just a couple of new posts? Hmmm.
(5) It’s all in good fun. According to reports, The Society of Good Taste started out last Wednesday with an existing fanbase of 22,000 (where they came from we do not know). Today, my fellow Society members number 35,057 (up from 34,810 yesterday). And I’m truly interested to find out whether a certain Peter Holländer will ever be admitted. Yesterday, he politely posted: I LOVE your mustard on a well done McRib, so would you please let me in?
Your turn – and let us know: Do you cut the mustard?