Ad Report Card: Hot Soup, Cold Comfort

There are awards for advertising, as there are awards for almost everything, and the other day I was looking at the list of winners of the 2002 International Andy Awards. Taking the  top prize in that competition was a spot, produced by Leo Burnett/London, for (of all things) Heinz Microwaveable Soup. You can see it here, by way of the online newsletter sent out by

The awarding-winning ad that sells a sad story

The ad: Things start out—racily enough—with a couple in bed, apparently having just finished making love. The guy is literally rolling off. He looks over at the woman and gives a little eyebrow arch as if to say, “How about that, eh?” He looks both satisfied and smug, as though he’s just given a King Kong performance. The woman responds with a light laugh and gets out of bed, as Romeo immediately falls into drowsiness. She puts on a robe and walks to the kitchen, or more specifically to the microwave. The digital timer is ticking off the seconds—1:58, 1:59, 2:00. BING! Her Heinz Microwaveable Soup is ready. And once it occurs to you that she must have started it up before her tumble with the would-be Superman in the other room, well, it’s obvious that, eyebrow-arching aside, their whole encounter lasted less than two minutes. A snore drifts out of the bedroom, and our heroine can only laugh, shake her head, and perhaps hope that the end of her soup-enjoyment does not come so prematurely. As it were.

The obvious message(s): This is a funny ad, and an effective one at making the point that these soups are ready very quickly—in two minutes. (The spot is actually called “Quick,” which of course reminds us of the old Heinz ketchup spot that stressed “anticipation.”) It’s clever, and it’s memorable.

On another level the ad does a rather devastating job of making a monkey of the man—that self-satisfied idiot! This sort of thing happens a lot in ad-land, where dad is always bumbling, the boyfriend is always clueless, the suitor is always inept. It’s never been clear to me why this is so, although maybe it’s an attempt by the ad industry (which, of course, is as male-dominated as any other) at fooling women into thinking that gender bias is a thing of the past. In any case, I don’t actually have a problem with commercial male-bashing—as long as it’s funny.

Satisfied? But the more I thought about this spot, the more something did bother me. It wasn’t the emasculation of the soup-woman’s lover. (And it wasn’t the unlikely occurrence of a microwave clock that counts up, as opposed to down, but that did bother the people.) What I wanted to know was: What’s this woman’s problem? What’s she doing with this guy? Is she just the sort of person who’s willing to go through life unsatisfied? Always settling for less? And is that an essential quality in those willing to eat microwaveable soup? I mean, really; doesn’t two minutes of sex followed by microwaved soup sound, you know, pretty pathetic? Is Heinz Microwaveable Soup the perfect meal for the person who is willing to drift through life unsatisfied?

So, if you’re at the supermarket and the person in front of you has loaded up on microwaveable soup, perhaps you should take a moment to pity those who are willing to settle for less than they deserve. Or perhaps you should ask that person out to dinner. I’d say your odds of getting a yes are pretty good.