Selling Frozen Peas 101

Nick recently discovered an old favorite of ours was on YouTube (above). No, not a favorite TV show or movie, but a short recording of outtakes of Orson Welles recording commercials for a frozen food company. I’ve had a cassette recording of this for many years, and its good listening from time to time to help keep us agency types grounded.

It’s only four minutes, but it gives a great microcosm of an agency/talent relationship gone wrong. I don’t know the back story on this actual relationship, I doubt few people do. But there are some easy conclusions to be drawn, and lessons to be learned.

  1. If you’re going to hire someone famous as your spokesperson, bring them into the circle. They may not want to be in the circle, but at least make that effort. Educate them about your product; even bring them into the creative process – again, if they wish. Then, when you step into the recording studio you’re all working toward the same goal.
  2. Make sure they are at ease with the copy. This goes back to involving them in the process. Don’t put words or phrases in their mouth that they are not comfortable saying. My guess is that Mr. Welles saw this copy for the first time when he walked into the recording studio.
  3. Don’t over-coach. Would you try to tell Mickey Mantle how to hit? If you’ve done your job on points 1 & 2 this is a no-brainer. You’ve hired Orson Welles. Put him in the little room, close the door, and turn on the microphone. And, if you offer any direction at all, you certainly don’t start telling Orson Welles how to inflect. This is where they truly showed the “depths of their ignorance.”
  4. And, last but not least, remember it’s advertising – not Shakespeare. These guys looked upon their words as sacred poetry – which is why Mr. Welles so heartlessly reminds them that they’re talking about frozen food.

Follow that strategy and you might just get Orson to stay in the studio for the entire session. Was Orson Welles a bit temperamental and perhaps difficult to work with? Undoubtedly – but they knew that going in. This is great listening. Take four minutes and hear for yourself a creative director’s worst nightmare.