How Do You Think Kraft Cheese Vetted Ted Williams?

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Columbus Dispatch

They didn’t.  Of course they didn’t.  On the advice of their public relations savvy agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, Kraft Foods hired Ted Williams, the Ohio homeless man with the jarringly-mellifluous, built-for-radio voice to read the announcer copy for an otherwise unremarkable Kraft Macaroni and Cheese commercial.  And the nation cooed it’s approval upon hearing this happy ending to what had started with a local public-interest piece by The Columbus Dispatch and quickly became a viral sensation on YouTube, earning 8.5 million hits in days.

It was a storybook turnaround for a tough life made worse by self-admitted bad choices. In less than a week, this panhandler went from an exit ramp to the Today Show and life-changing job offers from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kraft Foods.  It was a wonderful story, and the nation applauded this turnaround and the good-hearted people and brands that helped make it happen.

And then yesterday, the LAPD detained Mr. Williams after an argument with his daughter became very loud at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood.  There were no charges filed so they were released reasonably quickly.  But still, a Kraft and Cavaliers spokesperson had a brush with the law.  And brands hate when their reps have brushes with the law.

Look, I want the guy to succeed.  I always want the underdog to win.  I love it when the town turns out to bail out George Bailey, I tear up when H.I. McDunnough writes his selfless letter to his wife in Raising Arizona, and I’m generally a sucker for any story that features people being nice to people.

But really, who’s surprised by this?  The guy lost a career and years of his life by being a crackhead.  One day he’s homeless, then the next, 300 million Americans suddenly know about him and want to wish him well.  That’s a pretty epic burden, and one that’s bound to bring up a few issues for someone with a minor criminal record and a history of chemical dependence.

So will these rough patches reflect badly on the Cavs or Kraft Mac and Cheese?  Probably not.  As a country, we’re programmed to forgive.  Besides, we’ll be on to some new thing next week.  Perhaps a cute puppy that does a dance or an outspoken Grandma who has a few choice words to say about today’s kids and all their texting and tweeting.

There’s always another act…

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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steve b. says:

If they truly wanted to help this man, the folks who hopped on this bandwagon should pay for his treatment and “life” counseling that he obviously needs, giving him a fighting chance to succeed as a human being. Now that’s real PR.