Of time, salt, and the power of randomness.

I read foodie magazines and this month they all have ads for Morton Mediterranean Sea Salt, the Morton people being no fools and also readers of the same titles they advertise in. So they’re getting with the program, keeping their brand on trend, etc. etc.

The ads are neither good nor bad, just workman-like expressions of the carefully calculated marketing strategy that informed them. They carry a whiff of focus groups reacting to mood boards full of Tuscan revelry, picnics in the vineyards, whitewashed seaside villas, figs and olives.

One thing they never could have focus-grouped their way to, however, was the Morton icon, the 100-year old little girl in the rain with her umbrella and her freely-flowing salt.

When it rains it pours. That sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? Like Emily Dickinson meets Peggy Olson.

The parallel “it”s, the riff on an old saying (old even in 1890), the succinct expression of product difference (Morton invented the process to keep table salt from caking in humid weather). It’s so…good.

But if the Morton girl and her tagline were not an accident of history, beloved and beyond harm from change-agent CMOs and the Peter Arnells of the world, could she be created now? What brief could lead a creative team to this girl, too young to be the purchaser, outside in the rain away from kitchen and cupboard, carelessly wasting the product as she walks?

This, I believe, is what Mark Fenske meant when he wrote “Nobody ever did a good ad by writing to the strategy.” Strategies are rational; focus groups, absurdly so. The little girl, carrying her mother’s purchase home upside down as little girls do (or did, when the store was down the block instead of at the mall, and children were still allowed to go do errands without an adult riding shotgun), splashing happily in the rain: she is not the product of rational process. She and the other random happy hand-me-downs of brand history are a precious gift.

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