A Cannes Wrap-Up: Barf Bags and Death-by-Toaster Win Big

Let’s face it – topics like air sickness and ritual electrocution are not natural go-to’s for advertisers.

But by having the strength to stray from the usual and grok the more eccentric parts of American pop culture, two very unlikely clients each earned a Cannes Lions Grand Prix at last week’s festival.

Unlike gold, silver, etc., there’s something about the “Grand Prix” that suggests the big time – high rollers, car races, the Riviera.

And yet, to be age-ist about it, these Prix went to a 75-year old nausea medication and a 60-year-old packaged snack food, two decidedly unsexy products.

I had written earlier about “The Last Barf Bag,” by FCB Chicago for Dramamine, a 12-minute documentary so unexpectedly entertaining that viewers could happily spend that time journeying into the “nausea space.” (See the story here.)



It was awarded the Health and Wellness Grand Prix.

The premise of the doc is that both Dramamine, the over-the-counter tum-tum remedy, and the commercial airline seat-pocket barf-bag – invented as a proper, paper receptacle for uh, puke – each came to market in 1949.

Thus they were celebrating their 75th anniversaries, and that was a source of interest, not a weakness.

In the last 15-20 years especially, usage of the bag has dwindled mightily as sales of Dramamine have surged.

Dramamine cheekily takes some credit for this in the film, at one point showing a chart mapping the brand’s growth against the bags’ disappearance. Of course, some of that outcome was no doubt due to the effectiveness of Dramamine, and some of it came from the benefits of more advanced aviation, which reduced turbulence and the smell of gas.

But it took a more nuanced, sideways sensibility to seize on the vintage bags as documentary-worthy treasures and the focus of the show. (A particular favorite is that b-bag classic featuring a reindeer spewing ice cubes.)

And through this li’l film, we also get the poignant stories of four of the bags’ biggest collectors. Dramamine ended up buying one guy’s collection and put that and its own collection into a touring pop-up museum. There was also a web site, selling clever new iterations of the bag, and even a jacket made of them, but that appears to be sold out.

Branding history as content is increasingly popular in advertising – and movies. Yet making the subject so plucky and product-adjacent gave me new appreciation for the minds behind Dramamine.

But speaking of pop-ups (and who’s not?), a flamboyant one-off half-time promotion for Kellanova’s Pop-Tarts won the Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix on Thursday for its “edible mascot” stunt from Weber Shandwick. Not many brands go in for the kill this way.

Indeed, a half-time show at the Dec. 28, 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl in Orlando, Florida, a normally forgettable, mid-level college bowl game, turned into a shocking, semi-cannibalistic ritual.

The mascot, er, sacrifice, was a very excitable fellow – right out of the brand’s animated “Crazy Good” ads, but here seemingly a human in a Frosted Pop-Tart suit, complete with eyes, mouth, moving hands, legs and feet. He was earnestly flashing a "Dreams Really Do Come True!" sign until the very end, when he was dramatically lowered into his grave – I mean a giant toaster – on the field.

I so identified with the guy as flesh, blood and sprinkles that it seemed inhumanly cruel. 

But the winning team (which turned out to be Kansas State) got to eat the deceased-but-well-heated flattened platter of strawberry snack food that came out of another door. The players joyfully devoured the toasted dreamer with their hands.

And the stadium went crazy.

The icing on the icing: within 24-hours of the game, the brand earned more than $12 million worth of media exposure as the viral stunt spawned hundreds of jokey memes on social media and generated over 5 billion impressions.

It also succeeded in positioning the toaster pastry as a snack for all occasions, not just breakfast, which many people – and possibly cannibals – already knew.

So for snacking while watching football, or merely toasting a friend, Team Pop-Tart set a new high bar for live marketing stunts, sports marketing, and a whole new way to think about “edibles.”

Pretty prize-worthy, indeed.


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