Elena, it looks as if I spoke too soon. Victory is yours. The commercial is dead. About a month ago, I recounted the concerns of a Woodley Park woman, Elena Vidotto, about a TV ad for ravioli that she found offensive to Italians.
Several Italian peasants appear in the ad. Elena thought they gave an extremely negative picture of her countrymen, because they "look as if they have never taken a bath and never brushed their teeth." She was anxious to have the ad removed from the air.
Although we discussed various ways to achieve that, I told Elena she was betting on a million-to-one shot. Once an ad is on the air, I told her, the only way it ever gets off is if the manufacturer takes it off.
That's exactly what happened.
On Sept. 24, the Campbell Soup Company (maker of the ravioli in question) yanked the ad off TV all over the country. It had run for only five weeks. The man who wrote it, Alan Fraser, senior vice president of Needham Harper Worldwide, said the yank order was given because of protests exactly like Elena's.
Fraser said he and Campbell's received about 30 complaints from Italians or Italian-Americans. Other ads have received that many or more, said Fraser, but 30 was too many for Campbell's.
Fraser said he finds the outcry over the ad "one of the most ironic -- as well as frustrating -- episodes I've had anything to do with in nearly 20 years of advertising."
The ad was shot on location in Capodimonte, Italy, he said. The people who looked so objectionable to Elena were real villagers, not actors, and they were wearing their own clothes, not some slick ad man's idea of what Italian peasants wear. And of the six executives at Campbell's or Needham Harper who produced or approved the ad, only two were not Italian-Americans, Fraser said.
I can't say I'm sorry to see the ad pass from the scene, and I can guarantee you that Elena isn't, either. Like all caricatures, it insulted the intelligence of viewers.
Still, I'm reassured by the response of Campbell's and Needham Harper. How many big companies would a) listen so carefully to a small slab of public opinion and b) deep-six a multimillion-dollar ad campaign as a result?