Asked by a friend what I thought of a new TV spot for Panda Express, I responded definitively, “I don’t know.”
And I had seen the spot at least five times when I made that reply. You’d think a critic would have a more measured response after watching a commercial that often.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, I am forced to admit that my reply was a bit disingenuous. When I said, “I don’t know,” what I really should have said was, “I’m trying to find some way not to like it.”
The spot shows two panda bears, named Eddie and Tom-Tom, munching on bamboo in their zoo home. They’re looking across to diners on a Panda Express outdoor patio eating the chain’s new Beijing Beef entrée.
The panda bears can talk, and Eddie says, “They’re tormenting us, Tom-Tom.” That’s because the pandas are tired of eating °nothing but bamboo. They want Beijing Beef. Tom-Tom is especially ticked off.
“You people are lame,” he shouts to the diners.
Eddie and Tom-Tom have an idea. They’ll engage in civil protest by turning their backs to the diners.
The camera quickly cuts to Beijing Beef being tossed in a skillet and then served on a plate while a voice-over makes the product pitch.
In the final shot the bears, indeed, sit with their backs to the diners. “Talk to the backside, people,” Tom-Tom says.
In a second spot, Eddie confesses that he likes Beijing Beef more than the chain’s signature Orange Chicken. Tom-Tom is stunned.
“Eddie, you’re the Grand Poobah of the Orange Chicken Fan Club,” he says.
“Yeah, well, I resign. How’s that?” Eddie replies.
The spots are a first for Panda Express. Siltanen & Partners Advertising of Marina del Rey, Calif., created the campaign.
I’m always prepared to dislike talking animals or inanimate objects in advertising, which is why I expected not to like these spots. The animals or objects either don’t have a link to the brand or the link is tenuous. Often they’re thrown into the spot to get a cheap laugh, and many times the spots are just sophomoric in execution.
Consider Arby’s Oven Mitt campaign, which broke in 2003. The Oven Mitt character was meant to show that Arby’s always roasts it beef so that it’s fresh and juicy, not like the beef at the competition.
But the campaign didn’t work because an oven mitt doesn’t have a strong link to the Arby’s brand.
Arby’s recently broke a TV spot featuring talking beef sandwiches to promote the Beef Doubler and Chicken Doubler sandwiches. Had my friend asked what I thought about that one I would have replied, “Ho hum.”
I don’t really have to point out that panda bears have an obvious link to the Panda Express brand, but at first I wondered why the two in the campaign had to be talking pandas. Finally I decided, why not?
Eddie and Tom-Tom are the animal versions of TJ and Pete, the “Sonic guys” who star in TV spots for Sonic Drive-In. TJ and Pete sit in a car and banter with each other about Sonic products. Eddie and Tom-Tom sit in the zoo and banter about Beijing Beef.
The food photography in the spots is excellent, presenting Beijing Beef as a succulent dish. Although the ads show the overused food-tossing-in-a-skillet, the shot is brief and didn’t bother me.
When I wrote about Oven Mitt five years ago I proposed that Arby’s should stuff him in a drawer forever. Panda Express should keep Eddie and Tom-Tom in the zoo, as long as they’re allowed to make more commercials.