French Israel

Friday, March 12, 2004

Toward the end of last year, Yoplait entered into what is probably the biggest industry in Israel, selling yoghurt. (The sunflower seed industry came in a close second.) According to statistics at the end of the previous fiscal year, the average Israeli eats a metric ton of yoghurt every week. And Yoplait wanted in on the action.

I remember Yoplait entering the American market during my childhood. In the television commercials, famous actors (such as Hotlips from M*A*S*H) would eat the yoghurt and then begin spontaneously to speak French, with obviously no educational background in the language. I can just imagine how that would go over today on American television -- what a draw, huh? Eat Yoplait and get impaled by a good ol' patriotic type who doesn't appreciate a certain country's stance on the war with Iraq. No thanks.

In retrospect, I wish I had used the Hotlips method in teaching. Worth a try.

Yoplait's strategy, apparently, is to market their stuff in each of the 60 countries where it's sold by using slogans and images that will work in that country. In Australia, Yoplait's slogan is, "You lick it, because you like it!" Get it? Like it / lick it / like it / lick it? It's a pun! Or something like that. Did Australians just learn English? Is that really so catchy to them? That slogan seems to me something that would work back in 1957. Maybe it seems just as outdated to the Australians, but there, the yoghurt contains ecstacy.

In the U.S., the company's most recent product is "Exprèsse" for (according to them) "on-the-go adults". You know, the American kind. The kind who, if they are to learn a French word, must learn one that doesn't exist or that is spelled incorrectly. I poked around at the web site hoping to learn about this new product, one that must be consumed more quickly than a small cup of yoghurt, but found no more info. I'm guessing, though, that it contains coffee, in order to compete with the Frappuccino and its ilk. A one-ounce shot of distilled coffee, perhaps -- you know, expresso.

Here in Israel, as I was saying, Yoplait hit the ground running, appealing to kids first of all. I sadly don't have a shot of those bus-stop billboards, but they basically portrayed a young boy in a baseball cap with a goofy grin of surprise on his face, on a backdrop of a psychedelic swirl of colours. While one hand presumably held his kid-marketed Yoplait product, the other hand seemed to be picking his nose. The caption, "Zeh lo okhel!" "It's not food!" Ponder on that a minute, and you can see the challenges faced by the food industry here. In order to appeal to the secular Israeli, you must make your eating product (a) not real food, or (b) cleverly disguised as not real food. Yeah, it's a veritable culture of health and gastronomy I'm living in over here.

If you have no images, you're unfortunate indeed.I said "secular Israeli" not to unintentionally reveal my deep-seated bigotry, but to point out that at that time, there was no heksher [symbol of kosher supervision] on Yoplait products. Now there is, and so the marketing must change accordingly. And not because 'haredi children don't pick their noses, because they certainly do. But because they need to appeal to an adult market, too. The mass influx of immigrants coming from France in the last few months, for example.

These are not so great photos, but you can get the gist of what we've been seeing here, outside and inside of various neighbourhood macolets [tiny grocery store].

The first ad campaign featured an apparently Litvak yeshiva type, a smile on his face, his black hat inexplicably on fire. The smile is genuine, since the slogan is, "Joy gone too far!" You see, he has eaten new "bio" Yoplait yoghurt, and his Borcelino has gone up in flames. ("Bio", completely by the way, is short for the French "biologique", meaning organic. I don't know if the French have applied the word more liberally than it should be, but I know that's the basic translation on foods that actually are organic. It's quite the buzzword. Notice, though, that in this advert it is written in Roman letters, not Hebrew.)

The marketing department put a lot of thought into this one, in everything from the Concept to the choice of actor. I can just imagine the telephone call between him and his agent.

Poster model: Hallo!
Agent: Shimi! mah nishma?
Shimi: Dudu! mah koreh?!
Dudu: Shimi, I've got a gig for you.
- Yeah? What is it?
- It's yoghurt, you know, like Tnuva.
- I'm going to do an ad for Tnuva?
- Yeah, but it's for a French brand they're marketing. Never mind that. What I need to know is, do you have a black hat?
- Uh... (spits out a sunflower seed shell) I got one for my bar mitsvah... It was three sizes too big at the time...
- They usually are. That's how those black hats dress their children. The little rug rat has a 3-gallon head but he's got to wear a 10-gallon hat. Shows he's a talmid hakham [Torah scholar] already. The question is, you still got it?
- Yeah, probably so. They want that for the ad?
- That, a black jacket and a white shirt. Gotta show the stuff's glatt kosher and all. Mehadrin min-haMehadrin min-haMehadrin. [The kosherest of the kosher.] The rabbis blessed it.
- Black hat and frum suit, check. So what's the setup?
- Okay, you're the guy who just ate the yoghurt. And because of its creamy delicious goodness, your hat spontaneously catches fire. And you're smiling.
- Fire?
- Do you mind?
- You're going to burn my hat.
- What were you going to do with that hat anyway?
- Good point. But tell me, why is the hat on fire?
- Because you're so joyful at the taste of the kosher yoghurt! Obviously!
- Joyful?
- Joy gone too far. That's what the sign says. You know, boundless joy.
- Yoghurt is served cold, correct?
- Yeah...?
- So explain to me, please, how eating the delicious creamy yoghurt with boundless joy causes my hat to catch on fire?
- See, that's why you have your job and not mine, Shimi. It's all in the symbolism. We're aiming for a frum market. They'll see the guy in his black hat, okay. That's what will catch their eye. "One of ours? And he's eating this previously non-kosher French concoction?" So they'll realise it must have a heksher now. Ah, but there's more than meets the eye. The flames, you see, the flames from the hat are culminating in a perfect upward surge of devotion. It's pure kavannah. The incense from the altar. A pleasing fragrance to HaShem. They won't think about it, but it will register with them on a subconscious level. They'll be coming in, licking up that yoghurt in no time. Provided they didn't eat leftover cholent for breakfast, of course.
If you have no images, you're unfortunate indeed.
Shimi sighs. He is resigned. What other gigs does he have anyway?
- b'seder [ok].
- And let your beard grow in the meantime.
- A beard?
- I know you're working on a bad moustache. Just don't shave till the shoot. b'seder?
- (sigh) b'seder.

And so that beautiful poster came into being.

A few weeks later, Yoplait got a call from the 'hassidim. They felt left out. They wanted a piece of the action. What, and we should let the world think that the only people who eat creamy delicious French yoghurt are Likvaks?

The marketing department knew it was a gamble, but they knew time was on their side. Pourim was approaching. Bizarre costumes are de rigueur on Pourim. 'Hassidouth means boundless joy, right?! Nothing says bizarre and boundless joy like Toldot Aharon 'hassidim in their zebra-stripe outfits wearing Turkish tarboush hats. We've got a concept, boys! Just get them excited, really excited, and then everyone will know that Yoplait is for all persuasions.

And the X in the yoghurt didn't hurt, either.
PinḼas Ivri 11:31


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