As with cars, when the time finally comes for a new appliance, performance is a critical part of the purchase decision. Unlike cars, showing the performance of, say, a refrigerator, is near impossible. Which proves something of a problem when it comes time to advertise: you know something’s happening with that fancy fridge, but you can’t actually see it–because the door is closed!
With this limitation in mind, BBDO decided to put the performance of the new GE French door refrigerator to the test by taking it on a cross-country road trip. Yes, that’s right, we’re not mixing automotive-appliance metaphors here. For GE Freshpedition, the agency actually strapped a generator-powered fridge to the back of a truck and sent GE engineer Justin Berger and celeb chef Ben Sargent on a 2,000-mile journey from Kentucky to deliver fresh food, sourced from farms and markets along the way, to wildlife biologist Ron Thompson, stationed in the remotest desert of Texas.
Born of the challenge to develop a campaign to communicate the superior performance of the new GE French door refrigerator in helping to keep food fresher, longer, BBDO ECD Dennis Lim and Sr. CDs Scott Ex Rodgers and Juliana Cobb say, “we wanted to break through the status quo of the category and look for a way to prove the technology in this refrigerator really could do a better job keeping food fresh under even the worst conditions.” That meant keeping delicate peaches and Bibb lettuce, fresh goat cheese and prime cuts of meat fresh over 10 days of driving across some unforgiving terrain, and preparing a hot, gourmet meal in the barren Davis Mountains.
One of the enticing elements of the campaign is the odd-couple dynamic between the adorably uptight Berger and the charismatically laidback Sargent. Yet, the campaign didn’t start that way. “It started with a chef. We added a GE team member after one of their engineers demonstrated the refrigerator,” says Cobb. “It was sort of by accident. The engineer that demonstrated the refrigerator was Justin Berger and we noticed that not only did he demonstrate an incredible knowledge and geeky passion for explaining the refrigerator, but he was also very personable and quirky. The bulb went off. It struck us that chefs tended to be free spirited artists, while the engineers tended to be left-brained, logistically oriented types. It was a natural juxtaposition of types.”
So, what exactly does it take to bring a fridge across the country on the back of a pickup and film the entire process? Apparently, what the BBDO team calls a three-ring circus on wheels, including a four-man camera crew, a small gaffer/grip department, and one sound engineer, which was all facilitated by production company Acne. The art department was larger, however, because they needed a full working kitchen facility by the time Ben and Justin made it to the backcountry in Texas.
The entire story is told online in what amounts to an interactive travelogue, featuring webisodes of the journey, as well as photos, recipes, 360-views of stops, and funny little video outtakes–like when Ben marvels Justin’s, erm, meticulousness when searching for level ground to park on. Meanwhile, the main image of the site features a time-lapse view of the truck-mounted fridge, which condenses many parts of the trip into a 10-minute loop, complete with wrong turns, dead ends, thunderstorms and sunsets. Clicking on the fridge at any time enables users to explore its features though video demos from Berger.
“We wanted to make the site entertaining while educational at the same time. We wanted to keep it real, so instead of using CGI demos, we had Justin (the GE Engineer) tell us, in his own words, what the fridge does and had him introduce the fridge to visitors as if he was a friend,” says Rodgers.
One might presume the most difficult element of an adventure like this would be keeping the fridge mounted and the food fresh, but in fact actually finding biologist Thompson in the depths of the Davis Mountains was the biggest hurdle. “The refrigerator was great. It never failed. One key thing was designing and engineering a way to safely transport the refrigerator. It required careful thinking, as did how to keep the ingredients from getting too tossed around while traveling,” say the creatives. “However, it took us to the 11th hour to finally confirm Ron Thompson as the recipient of the refrigerator full of fresh ingredients for the meal because he was so remote–we couldn’t get hold of him.” In the end, they were able to contact him through the help of his family, who were invited along for the final chapter as part of Thompson’s surprise.
The campaign is scheduled to run from now through the middle of September but the creative team says there’s been talk about future chapters of Freshpedition. As for the charismatic journeymen, Ben Sargent continues to host his Food Network show Hook, Line and Dinner, while the BBDO team says that, “while his time in front of the camera was fun, Justin Berger is back at work on refrigeration engineering. But if Hollywood calls…he’s keeping his options open!”