October 1999
s m u g
target audience
by Leslie Harpold

The Toaster Conspiracy

Thomas' English muffins would like me to believe that there are great stories to be told about mothers and daughters to be told around the toaster. Eggo would like me to believe that waffle ownership will affect my relationships in a classic struggle for power. Pop tarts would like me to think that those too sweet toaster pastries will make my life more whimsical and exciting. I'm not sure I want an appliance that costs less than twenty dollars to have that much power in my life.

Thomas' has an ad where a small blonde moppet is sitting with her grandma as she is fed the story of how "mommy used to call them 'crooks and nannies' to which the little girl responds as if she's been tickled. Grandma speaks in low and hushed tones, as if she is relating some cherished family secret, and when mom arrives, just in time for the perfectly browned muffin to pop out of the toaster -- the child ask for verification. "Is it true!" Mom and grandma share a look and although mom is dismissive, she is surprised and slightly embarrassed that gramma is still telling that old story.

In the end the family shares a warm, loving soft focus moment. I'm sitting there asking myself what kind of family discusses the intimate details of english muffins as a family story. If this is where the modern family is headed, I'll have no part of it.

I rue the day I sit at the table with my (at this point fictitious) child and my mom starts talking about how I never wanted to pop Pop Tarts and the worst shame of all: I always thought that eggos were a weird shape and the circles made me feel a little uncomfortable. Frankly, I never really cared about anything that came out of the toaster with appropriate passion.

I understand that it's hard to make toaster related food products exciting and interesting enough for television, but I'm going to have to draw the line at making the innocuous appliance the epicenter of hearth and home. Any woman who would follow her window washer husband to work, as evidenced in the latest Eggo spot, or imagine that their wild blueberry Pop Tart would make them a pint sized rock star is taking advertising way too seriously, but those spots are based on long running, slightly absurd campaigns and that small element of absurdity saves them. So although it may annoy me to no end, it doesn't cause me that much stress.

It's the English Muffins that alarm me the most. The innocuous set, the doting grandmother, it all plays into the new family values set, hoping to find some sort of closeness, some kind of glue to reunite the busy American family. There is a certain appela, if I could convince my mother to tell a story like that instead of dragging out the pictures of me with my toy fishing pole in the bathtub at age three, or how I dumped talcum powder in the hallway when I got a shovel for Christmas on a year there was no snow and I couldn't wait to get started, or any of the shameful tales about me driving the car into the house, I'd feel 0pretty good about it. But as we know, mothers are untrainable, and the stories will get told. The ad makes me question my whole existence for a moment before realizing that it's the people on TV who are living wrong.

What if the small features of consumer products become fodder for family memories. What if family discussions start centering on how Tide both brightens as it whitens? What if the whole world suddenly creates family moments around April Freshness or a 100% Real Cheese Taste Explosion? I'm just not prepared for that.

The possiblitiy exists that this is merely a conspiracy perpetuated by the likes of Sunbeam, Back and Decker, Cuisinart and other toaster manufacturers to incite the family decision maker to keep a new toaster around lest some precious moment slip by with burnt edges, but I'm not quite paranoid enough (yet) to buy that one.

I've come to accept that we must see families bonding around or with the help of products, but to presume this branded attachment becomes part of a family legacy is just too creepy for me. Back away from the toaster ladies, and get back to chatting about that not so fresh feeling.



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