Article by: Dr Kishore Budha, Head of Cultural Insights at Bryter
Tell me you enjoyed this advert
The Heinz advert for its beans, while evoking elements of the iconic Mr. Bean, fails to spark genuine enjoyment. It attempts to reference British culture and the stereotype of the holiday maker who seeks familiar comfort when abroad, but it lacks the essential ingredient of humour that could have made it a true standout.
Lost luggage: The semiotics of 'Too good to leave behind'
We encounter a sad middle-aged British man on a foreign holiday. He stands alone by an empty baggage carousel, setting the stage for a tale of travel misfortune. His bag hasn't arrived, leading to a series of scenes portraying his inconsolable state in various settings throughout his vacation.
Image 1: Opening scene from Mr Bean's 'Holiday Suitcase'
Image 2: The closing scene from Heinz's 'Too good to leave behind', referencing Mr Bean's sketch
This advert, however, isn't entirely original. It draws a clear connection to the iconic Mr. Bean, particularly his famous "Holiday Suitcase" sketch. In both cases, beans are part of other essentials in a suitcase. While Mr. Bean's comedic genius lies in his antics, the Heinz advert opts for a darker, less humorous tone.
Image 3: Scene from the advert
Image 4: Scene from the advert
Image 5: Scene from the advert
Semiotic codes in the Heinz advert
All great stories are based on the idea of a plot - or an event - that propels the story forward. In the TV series, Mr Bean sticks the cans of beans in first, which is the set up to him struggling to fit his clothes and we witness the hilarity of him economising on the essentials such as snipping bits of his clothes off, squeezing the toothpaste out, chucking the shorts out, putting only one shoe in to make sure he gets to take his cans of beans.
The Heinz advertisement cleverly incorporates semiotic signs and symbols from both the 'Mr. Bean' TV series and the film 'Mr. Bean's Holiday.' This intertextual reference adds depth to the storytelling, aiming to connect with a British audience familiar with these cultural touchstones.
Making sense of the advert
At first glance, the advert appears to pay homage to Mr. Bean, aligning with the British tradition of self-deprecating humour. Baked beans, a beloved staple in the UK, serve as a cultural signifier. In Mr Bean's sketch, they code him as a lovable Brit willing to sacrifice holiday essentials for the comfort of familiar food. We find his antics endearing because he brings a childlike playfulness to every situation. Heinz's use of this stereotype is leans toward a gloomier interpretation, missing the opportunity for light-hearted laughter.
Image 6 (RHS): Unlike Mr Bean, who is quite inventive and not one to give up in the face of adversity, the protagonist in the Heinz advert is a weepy and feckless character.
What is Heinz missing and what could have been done instead?
The advert misses a crucial ingredient - the inclusion of British humour and the quintessential ability of the British to laugh at themselves. The brand is referencing British culture from a time when many people were inflexible when travelling abroad and expected or demanded the familiar abroad.
While baked beans may symbolize Britishness, the advert's visual treatment, characterized by dark tones and low contrast, veers towards pathos and dark comedy rather than the expected light-heartedness. This results in a somewhat perplexing and unsatisfying viewing experience.
The advert falls short of the mark. The protagonist serves more as an object of derision than an invitation to laugh with him. Instead of celebrating the British ability to laugh at themselves, the advert leaves us with a sense of irritation.
Get in touch to find out more
To learn more about how semiotics and cultural insights can help inform the design of your communications get in touch with Kishore directly at email@example.com or follow on linked in at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kishorebudha/