Friday, September 5, 2003

Giving the Mitt the Finger

There are times when we just sit back and ask ourselves: What were they thinking?

Arby's, that bastion of roast beef and curly fries, has done something terrible. They've released Oven Mitt. The Fort Lauderdale-based fast-food company launched a national advertising campaign on March 2, 2003 featuring an animated character, Oven Mitt, to describe how Arby's oven roasts – not fries or grills – its beef.

I remember when I first saw Oven Mitt. I stopped into an Arby's on my way home and caught sight of the illustrated character on the side of the take-away bag. My first thought? What have they done to their hat logo? What is this supposed to be?

Indeed, my brain continues to be dazzled by the weaknesses inherent in Oven Mitt's design:
  • Oven Mitt is confusingly similar to Arby's cowboy hat logo;
  • Oven Mitt is vague – does it specifically denote oven cooking? Do fry and grill cook require no heat shielding?;
  • Oven Mitt is designed to appeal to a younger audience yet Arby's continues to brand themselves as mature fast food;
  • Oven Mitt's writers, likely as a result of committed script review, have yet to produce a compelling and humorous script for this comic character;
  • Oven Mitt is a complicated and inflexible illustration, requiring unsightly detail (such as stitching and shading) to be discernable as an oven mitt when in small or low color formats;
  • There is the uncomfortable depiction of Arby's employees reaching inside Oven Mitt to use him;
  • Oven Mitt is entirely reminiscent of another logo. Can you guess it? Hamburger Helper.
Arby's does not provide a price tag for the Oven Mitt campaign, but the New York Times reported it will cost $85 million. That's money well spent diluting and confusing their brand...

Oven Mitt, voiced by Tom Arnold, is emotional about "Oven Fresh... Oven Good" food – a point of infestation between Arby's and it's competitors that the company hopes to reinforce. Oven Mitt takes over Arby's advertising from Appetite Man, voiced by Barry White, who detailed Arby's menu items for the previous 18 months.

The Oven Mitt campaign, created by Doner Advertising in Detroit, includes 30-second commercials to air on cable TV, plus radio, print, point-of-purchase and promotional items. Doner's research team found consumers respect and desire food prepared in an oven – finding it synonymous with special occasions, comfort and home cooking. Indeed, Arby's takes special pride in their three-hour slow roasting process.

Oven Mitt has his fans, no doubt – Arby's won the 'Hot Again' award from Nation's Restaurant News in 2003. But not everyone likes the floppy unfunny kitchen garment.

Various websites have called Oven Mitt "ugly and unlikable", the "bastard love child of the Hamburger Helper hand and Grimace from Mickey D's", and announced that "the Oven Mitt from Arby's must die." A writer at revealed that the "creepy talking oven mitt...terrified me so much that I destroyed my own oven mitts just so they couldn't start talking; now my hands are covered with burns". One web site went so far as to sponsor a petition which began:

"We, The Undersigned, believe that the Arby's mascot, Oven Mitt is evil and all use of said mascot should cease immediately. The idea of an amorphous, living, breathing oven mitt, while at first bland and boring, becomes revealed as something so unnatural, so abhorrent that any and all traces of its existence should be wiped from this earth.... " (

The point is this. There is a difference between creating bad advertising which people remember well (Old Navy, for instance) and bad advertising people simply abhor (Lamisil, for instance). There is also a difference between creating good and bad humor – the later of which Oven Mitt excels at. Here's a hint for Arby's and Doner Advertising to keep in mind: It's never good when consumers are laughing at you, not with you.

In an attempt to create a humorous public-facing personality with which to elevate its sagging public perception, Arby's has failed to make us laugh. Indeed,Oven Mitt's only success is in making Arby's advertising a joke. fb

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for this post I know it is old but showcases the Gimmick versus Value and the cost of extinct methods of marketing- I linked this in a more recent blog thank God for the longtail!