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Foster Farms characters coming back
By Scott Jason
September 16, 2006, 02:42:12 AM PDT
LIVINGSTON -- The Foster Imposters are crossing interstate roads in a
renewed effort to pass themselves off as Foster Farms chickens.
The West Coast poultry processor announced Friday it is relaunching its
Foster Imposters advertising campaign, which was on a two-year hiatus.
In 1993, a San Francisco-based advertising firm hatched the two scraggly
birds and their plight to be accepted as Foster Farms chickens. Until
2004, the duo zig-zagged the West Coast in their 1967 Plymouth
Belvedere, trying to deceive customers.
Greta Janz, Foster Farms' vice president of marketing, said the chickens
went to roost because the company noticed consumer awareness levels were
A study showed 85 percent of California consumers recognized the Foster
Imposters, which made it the most successful campaign since the
California Raisins, Janz said.
The chickens were replaced by the "We Foster" campaign, which focused on
the company being family-owned.
"With ads that are feel-good, (viewers) just tune you out," she said.
"We came to realize that when you are advertising, it's really
difficult to break through the clutter."
When the imposter commercials were pulled, the company was inundated
with calls and letters from people who missed the chickens, Janz said.
They left the air with the possibility of returning, she said.
"When you have something like the imposter campaign, which is a
once-in-a-lifetime campaign, it is hard to come up with something
better," Janz said.
If the campaign was national, it would cost about $50 million, Janz
said. However, Foster Farms advertising is only regional and Janz
declined to give true cost.
Harold Sogard, vice chairman of the company that created the bumbling
birds, said the concept derived from the Charlie the Tuna campaign by
StarKist Tuna, which started in the 1960s, went until 1980s and
recently was reintroduced.
Charlie, a beatnik fish with glasses, always was rejected because the
company wanted fish that tasted good, not that had good taste.
"They cooked up the idea of a couple of chickens that wanted to be
Foster Farms chickens, but weren't good enough," Sogard said.
It is difficult to design a campaign that is both informative and funny,
Sogard said. In the road trip commercial, the two chickens drive across
the nation in searing heat, get frozen at night and eat junk food the
Research showed consumers will likely enjoy the imposters' second run as
much as the first one, he said.
"It's a little bit like the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner," he said.
"You know the Foster Imposters are going to lose, and it's fun to find
out how they are going to get found out."
Though people may enjoy the commercials, it doesn't always translate
into increased sales, said Alice Cuneo, the West Coast editor of the
New York-based Advertising Age magazine.
"If it's Foster Farms or a Wal-Mart brand, it will be a hard choice,"
she said. "I am not sure the Imposters can bring people over the line."
The commercials' logic is convoluted, Cuneo said. The customers see the
imposters as the opposite of Foster Farms and then must figure out what
the poultry company is about.
"You have a lot of dots to connect," she said.
The poultry processor switched to the "We Foster" campaign, Cuneo
thinks, because customers became interested in organic and healthy
"Chicken still has that patina of being a healthy food," she said.
"Basically they wanted to do something more family-oriented."
With concerns over avian flu, Cuneo said she wonders if the public will
still embrace the dirty duo.
"I'm interested to see how they can play those chickens out," she said.
"Maybe people will continue to think it's funny."
The fast-food eating, nacho cheese guzzling duo will be in four
commercials this season, starting Monday and ending Oct. 15. Two of
them are in Spanish.
One commercial shows the two driving across the country and trying to
pass themselves off as a Foster Farms chicken to a California resident.
The other clip shows an angry mom confronting the birds on a daytime
talk show after they duped her.
One will be shown Sept. 28 during the premiere of "Grey's Anatomy." They
will appear on network and cable television in all the major cities in
California, Oregon and Washington, Janz said.
Two commercials of the four are in Spanish, featuring the popular
musical group Los Tucanes de Tijuana. They will air beginning Sept. 27.
Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at 385-2453 or