You may have seen Kraft’s new line of TV ads recently promoting the Athenos® hummus and Athenos® yogurt. There are three different versions, each featuring an elderly grandmother character called “Yiayia” (Greek word for grandmother) voicing her disapproval of the characters’ clothing, work/parenting roles and cohabitation choices, respectively. However, the common theme among all of them is that she overwhelmingly approves of their food choices: the specific brand of hummus and yogurt.
As a Greek-American and PR practitioner, I have an opinion on this. After all, addressing cultural sensitivities when promoting ethnically-focused products is important.
My first impressions were: What does a girl’s dress have to do with hummus? Why do we care if Doug is currently a stay-at-home-dad while Kathy works? Lots of people have these roles today. Doug is preparing a healthy snack for his kids, complete with red peppers, lettuce and pita bread served with hummus. And Lauren and Greg, while not married, are enjoying a tasty breakfast of Greek yogurt and fruit. Michelle is serving her friends a platter of vegetables along with the hummus. These are terrific, healthy food choices, everybody.
But instead of focusing on the health benefits of Greek yogurt and hummus – along with the pleasing taste and texture – Kraft chose a comical approach with showing a caricature of a Greek grandmother stereotype. Yes, often Greek grandmothers are very outspoken and share their opinions bluntly. But they are not always crotchety, judgmental figures; they can be quite helpful and compassionate. They showed us how to cook some of the more complicated Greek meals, share stories of their youth and instill Greek traditions and heritage.
I think Kraft could’ve taken a softer approach, and incorporated the grandmother figure into a more nurturing, productive role. For example, she could be working alongside the young woman and helping her prepare the platter for her dinner party, or still provide an approving smile for the product without the unnecessary judgment.
The brand tagline, “Athenos: may be the only thing approved by yiayia,” is perplexing. Is a grandmother’s approval the most important message a food product company wants to convey to its consumers? While I applaud Kraft’s efforts to tie in an ethnic element to the ads and build an association with Greek culture to a Greek-inspired product, I think the ads send confusing and mixed messages and fall short of building a strong brand connection with the product.
The real message – the authenticity and wholesomeness of the products – gets lost toward the end of the ads. The narrator states, “because only Athenos is made the Greek way, with 100% olive oil” (for hummus ad) and “because Athenos is made the traditional Greek way, never using preservatives or artificial flavors” (for yogurt ad) with bright visuals of olive oil, honey, etc. Well that’s great, I’m glad these are made with natural ingredients, but I’ve still got the image of the scolding grandmother in my head.
Kraft is not the only company to jump on the Greek product bandwagon. Yogurt giant Dannon has also produced a TV spot – in Spain – for its brand of Greek yogurt, although it looks more successful. Several others have their own line of Greek yogurt, including Fage (which is actually a product line from Greece), Chobani, and Oikos. And with good reason; USA Today reports that Greek yogurt sales up 160% over the past year. But I don’t think that’s because “yiayia” approves.