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Heritage Management on TV: Holiday Edition

December 18, 2009 • Jason Dressel

One thing I love most about the holiday season is the traditions and nostalgia it evokes. We all have our own personal rituals we share with loved ones, whether picturesque or totally corny.

We also, of course, have our whole lexicon of popular culture seasonal touchstones. Only the magic of the holiday season can explain the continual broadcast (and apparent demand for) programs like the early ’60s claymation Christmas specials. These shows have been so thoroughly antiquated and outpaced by our current standards of entertainment from both a content and production-value perspective that they now strike me as outright bizarre. Yet just like our holiday home decorations (which also may not meet our updated aesthetic standards), we anticipate these programs and know that the season is really here when they come out.

This brings me to one of my favorite holiday season TV moments, “Peter, you’re home!” I’ve long admired Folgers’ steadfast commitment to airing this commercial and have been struck by how timeless it is—both visually and content-wise. The story of a loved one coming home for the holidays is timeless and universal, and for whatever irrational reason, this one has always tugged at my heartstrings. And considering the commercial first aired in 1986, Peter’s family, all decked out on Christmas morning in their bathrobes, pajamas, and Norwegian fishermen sweaters, have hung in there pretty well over the years, much like an L.L. Bean catalog.

But in our new high-def world, even I have to admit that the Folgers family has been looking pretty haggard. I recall thinking last year, “Damn, I have VHS tapes that look better than that.”

So I was greatly amused last week when, working in a hotel room, I heard the Folgers commercial come on. But wait! It was completely different . . . yet entirely the same. Indeed, Folgers had made over Peter’s family for the 21st century. A Christmas miracle! Or I guess the Folgers folks finally accepted that the centerpiece of their holiday decorations needed an upgrade.

A quick search online provided the backstory. The Folgers brand was acquired last year by J.M. Smucker from Proctor & Gamble. In addition to revamping the commercial, Folgers is apparently bringing back their “Best Part of Wakin’ Up” theme, as part of an overall brand revitalization effort.

A further interesting point was that the new ad, which was created by Saatchi & Saatchi, references that Peter has returned from West Africa. According to the folks at J. M. Smucker, this little detail refers to the true story of a son returning home from doing mission work. While I always liked that the original ad, created by now-defunct agency Cunningham & Walsh, left Peter’s previous whereabouts unknown and irrelevant, this new detail represents the ad agency move toward using more authentic stories to inform their creative.

So while I’m glad that Peter’s family got a makeover and they’ll be around for a few more seasons, it will be fun to see if the new ad proves to be as purpose-built as the last. If you go online you will see that there are already a range of opinions out there. The skeptic in me says it won’t. It’s hard to repeat that kind of success, but maybe that’s the magic and nostalgia of the holidays.



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