Charlie And The Fickle Finger

Pardon me for a minute while I mourn my loss of innocence. It has something to do with a Shakespearean, (or perhaps Arthur Miller-ian) drama involving a bald, big-headed baby, a squealing toddler older brother, and the eternal fight for recognition and human dignity within the family structure.

I refer to the You Tube sensation, “Charlie bit my finger,” which first surfaced in 2007, a true digital triumph (in the finger sense) on the then fledgling YT channel. If you recall, it showed a raw moment  between the older brother, (whose name we never knew) who at age three already had a fully developed ego and plummy British accent, and baby Charlie, who was all id and recently erupted teeth. It seemed to be a cry for attention from the older guy, who once bitten, and twice as un-shy, was perhaps feeling eclipsed in the family by this adorable, giggling baby. So while the first bite was perhaps a baby-based accident, big bro goes in for a second time, purposely placing his digit in the mouth of the infant Jaws. When he gets no response, he keeps crying that “Charlie bit me and it really, really hurt.”  What didn’t hurt was the incredibly cute way he draws out all the syllables when he repeatedly says “Chah-lay.”  And then Charlie laughs.

Until now, I thought that the brilliance of the clip (and the reason it has racked up almost half a billion hits) was its organic innocence -- an unfiltered moment of sibling love and rivalry that could never have been manufactured by an ad agency or corporation bent on selling something. It was so short, cute, and universally relatable-- and sharable-- that it seemed to embody the whole promise and possibility of the Internet itself.

No one believes in celebrity any more, I thought, but Internet celebrities are somehow purer. Plus, virals come with a warranty -- they are usually sent by a friend or family member we trust. I thought that ads adopting these natural memes would fail.

Turns out  I myself was being a big, naive baby.  A recently released Ragu commercial from agency Barton F. Graf 9000 proves that Howard, the boys’ dad, is in fact a Kardashian mom.

But back to the sauce. Harry, (the screamer) now eight, and his brother, Charlie, now six, star in the latest execution of the controversial but dead-on strategy for Unilever’s red stuff, now with the tag line “A long day of childhood calls for America’s favorite pasta sauce.”

The campaign runs on all media, but this particular spot is Internet only.  It’s near-perfect, the best of the bunch.

By contrast, the first Ragu spot in this novel child-humiliation series was launched on the Olympics, and showed an awkward tween boy coming home and opening his parents’ bedroom door. He walks in on them doing “it.”  Even though we never see the parents going at it, just the thought was TMI. Sealing the “eww” factor was the final shot of the kid and the prime-time fornicators eating together. (We know that it was “parents in bed but it’s just 8 o’clock” from the song.) But I guess this particular kind of saucy-ness sells, because the spot was apparently cringe-making enough to go viral, clocking in at over one million views.

One of the things I like best about the Charlie update is, it doesn’t end by showing the family coming together over their spaghetti dinner, all cheery, with the kids holding their forks improperly and smiling. Rather, it’s a perfect documentary update, a commercial version of the British “Seven Up!” series. We see the boys watching their earlier selves in the video (a mirror of a mirror of a mirror). They recreate the action, bite one, and bite two, like scenes that look for the gun man on the grassy knoll. Harry says that his brother bit him and it really hurt, but “instead of helping me, my parents kept filming, and now the whole world has seen it.”

What the 56-second video also reveals, for us amateur Freudians, is that people really don’t change much from babyhood on. It’s baked-in: Charlie is still hyperactive and nearly silent (he utters a monosyllable, I think.) And Harry still complains a lot and tries to blame his younger brother for everything.

The idea of the bite cleverly fits into healing through Ragu therapy. (The new mac-‘n’-cheese, in terms of comfort food.) All of the spots feature a funny explanatory country-westernish ditty -- like a Ragu haiku-- summarizing the trauma.  This one is particularly hilarious:  "Charlie bit my finger like a rabid opossum, but dad kept on filming because he thought it was awesome."

One glitch: the melding of the American Western-sounding song, and the line about “America’s” favorite sauce, mixed with these obviously British kids. On the other hand, the spot ends with a shot of younger Harry doing his original high-pitched scream under the announcer saying, “He’s been through enough!” and that’s spot-on.

Indeed, these kids have been through enough. But apparently dad Howard is bent on building a bite-kid empire. He claims that the business part started only because people came to them and “suggested things.”  Reportedly, the family has made about $500,000 from ads on You Tube since the video went viral, and now the kids do appearances, have a T-shirt line, a blog and an app. The reason the family cooperated with Ragu is that they now have an agent and are trying to put together some sort of show that follows the boys and also shows them critiquing other videos.

Good luck with that, Dad. Especially at this age, these kids are not everyone’s cup of tea. And they have certainly had their moment. I see this Charlie factory-building as biting the hand that bit the finger that feeds you. Don’t go all Kardashian. Think of Honey Boo Boo.

But for Ragu, the whole updated drama sure makes for one swell commercial.

Tags: ad campaign
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2 comments about "Charlie And The Fickle Finger".
  1. Donna M. Abelli from Hampden Bank , October 24, 2012 at 2:56 p.m.
    I agree that the Charlie comercial is "it’s a perfect documentary update, a commercial version of the British “Seven Up!” series"..which makes it viewable, but for the most part the Ragu commercials make me skeeve! Especially the one with the mother licking her thumb and wiping her son's face...and the one with the little girl who questions her dad about her hamster, has so much going on conceptually that it is just plain stupid and weird. The country Western song, the scenerios, the fonts, the colors, EVERYTHING about this campaign, IMHO is plain creepy. To associate a food product to something gross like spit on your thumb and wipe your kid's face...OVER and OVER again is repugnant. I know where they were going with this campaign...but they did not hit the mark. The commercials go viral because they are weird, NOT because people are buying Ragu. I would like to see those metrics.
  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , October 24, 2012 at 3:08 p.m.
    Donna-- I know what you mean about the spit, particularly! My mother did that to me, and it is repugnant. This one, however, hits a nerve. And I think that adults will secretly take to the self-comfort message and Ragu alone.