Apparently I am about ten years behind the times, and Olive Garden seems to have recently made the same realization that I did. In my last post I commented on the growing trend in America of fast-food chains, corporate restaurants, and the frozen food section replacing the age-old tradition of families enjoying home-cooked meals together. However, it would seem that encouraging families to cook and eat together is passé. The nuclear family is already dead, and Olive Garden is capitalizing on this knowledge to launch a new ad campaign. Instead of their 14-year old slogan, “When You’re Here, You’re Family,” which sounds oppressively family-centric, Olive Garden is choosing a more inclusive and no-nonsense slogan: “Go Olive Garden.”
If it sounds more like a football rallying cry, that’s probably no accident. Olive Garden, or rather its ad agency, seems to believe, and perhaps rightfully so, that we have moved beyond even the nostalgic longing for family gatherings around the dinner table. Harkening back to that time in our history will no longer have the emotional effect that once caused us to pull out our wallets. Olive Garden, like me, may have been slow on the uptake, but it is trying to revamp its image, starting with a new television ad voiced by Modern Family’s Julie Bowen—an appropriate spokeswoman for the dysfunctional family.
Unfortunately, while some news outlets have criticized the new slogan as “something awful,” they have missed the deeper point and interpret the change simply as Olive Garden “freshening up” its image and catering to the average American’s “hectic” life. Unlike Michelle Obama, we ought not be so hasty in our praise of the corporation.
Now in order to appeal to the “modern family,” the family element must be removed. As the new Olive Garden ad illustrates, the scenes that strike a chord in the hearts of Americans are women striking yoga poses, an ethnically diverse group of friends taking pictures of themselves with a smartphone, and Vespas. This postmodern montage of the happy, socially atomistic, and “hectic” American life is lacking, interestingly, images of these people actually eating together—what we presumably would go to Olive Garden to do. This is not insignificant. Olive Garden recognizes that it can’t have it both ways—the picture of mealtime in the “hectic” American life is not a pretty one. The only people who regularly gather around a dinner table together are, let’s face it, families. Since this image no longer resonates with Americans, the ad simply puts together piecemeal images of hip yoga poses and ice-skating and then flashes us dishes of food in the hope that we’ll emotionally link the two and decide to eat at Olive Garden.
This truly has the potential to be an effective ad campaign. We are made to feel that the “modern” American life is a happy one, in all of its disjointed social atomism. At the same time, we are made to forget that mealtime has become a solitary and hurried affair, lacking in any purpose beyond getting it done as quickly and cheaply as possible. And indeed, who needs to gather and share life’s joys in happy moments around the dinner table when we have gladly replaced this age-old experience with a the ability to perfectly perform the downward facing dog.