Greek Outcry Over Kraft's Athenos Ads: Hummus and Hookers, Oh My!

Kraft released its new ad campaign this week for its Athenos line of hummus, combining shock value and a little Greek stereotyping. A young woman serves her friends Athenos hummus. In response, a Greek yiayia, or grandmother, comments that the hostess dresses like a prostitute. The hostess does a verbal double-take and the Greek grandmother repeats the word "prostitute" for good measure. Then the narrator points out that at least Yiayia endorses Athenos hummus. "Athenos may be the only thing approved by Yiayia," goes the tagline.

While I applaud Velveeta-slingin' Kraft for going ethnic in new ads to tout its line of Athenos Greek foods, I'm not so amused by the brand association. I don't think "prostitute" and "hummus" go together. And if you think they do, I want nothing to do with your next pita platter.

I like irreverence. I like it more when it melds with the message. You have to have feta cheese for brains to think that simply jabbing the funny bone with outrageousness will conjure a positive connection to crushed chickpeas. The spot amuses in a Zorba-channels-Estelle Getty kind of way, but my brain keeps repeating the sophomoric and ignoring the hummus.

At least Yiayia's the real deal. The series was shot and cast in Greece, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Kathy Boulukos, a Greek culture expert, cookbook author and founder of the Greek Museum, consulted on the campaign. But that doesn't necessarily translate into authenticity. Nor does it not make the commercial immune from offending.

It's the old "my best friends are [insert ethnic group or race here] defense," according to some taking umbrage. Maria Anagnostopoulos, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Greek Institute, called the ad inappropriate and told USA Today she wanted it pulled. Marketing wonk Martin Lindstrom said in the national daily that the campaign will get the ax for its desperate tactics.

The opposite aisle of My Big Fat Greek Venting liked the kookiness and the moralizing of the grandma. The companion ad features a couple declaring that they eat Athenos yogurt for breakfast, before Yiayia informs them they are going to hell for not being married. Katie Paine, a public relations pundit quoted in USA Today, predicted the spot would connect with its youthful target, but plans for the bit to mushroom in cyberspace might be far-fetched.

Who said going viral ever guaranteed sales? We're still waiting to see if the anorexic outcry over Diet Pepsi's Skinny can will make sales fizzle or sizzle.

Not only will Athenos hummus have to worry about its Greek customer base, but what about its prostitute demographic as well?

Corrected: This story was corrected on March 3, 2011. A previous version of the story said the Athenos ad campaign received the Greek Museum of New York's seal of approval. We regret the error.
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