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Giant tries 'quirky boy' to promote its new card


I WAS SITTING on the stoop the other day, going through junk mail and newspapers and my second-grader's school work, and I found myself, during a weak moment, staring at a couple of dudes - the Pizza Boli's dude and the Giant Bonus Card dude. One promotes home-delivered pizza, the other tries to get customers excited about Giant's latest frequent-shopper gimmick.

Have you see them? I think they could be cousins. (Their faces appear with the rest of this column on Page 6B. Go have a look and come back. I'll wait for you.)

Did you notice a similarity? They both have big teeth, long jaw lines and substantial noses. But while these guys look like they were panned from the same gene pool, there are differences.

The Pizza Boli's guy appears older, his feet firmly planted, his face exhibiting measured enthusiasm. He could be a guy from your softball league.

But the Bonus Card chap - "Tommy," according to his nameplate - he's a lot more edgy. There's something else going on here.

In addition to display advertising and in-store posters, "Tommy" appears in Giant television commercials. He comes across as a mildly annoying nerd, a little too giddy about the price of eggs, someone you don't want getting too close to Grandma while she shops. I'm not saying this character isn't funny, and I'm not saying he doesn't leave an impression. I'm saying the impression he leaves is weird -- especially for a Giant advertising campaign.

He's about as far from longtime Giant icon Odonna Matthews as Pee-Wee Herman is from Martha Stewart.

But it turns out that "Tommy" is just what Giant wants as the front man - or front boy - for its ambitious Bonus Card campaign. Melanie Gness, spokeswoman for the chain, calls him "the quirky boy next door, who is focused and proud of what he does." In concept, he's the kind of kid who would go way out of his way to help your grandma get the best buy on foot powder.

The Stern Agency in Columbia came up with the idea of the boy-next-door pitching the Bonus Card and Giant's staff selected "Tommy" from 300 candidates in a video casting call. Those who saw Tommy, played by Minnesota native Cade Bitner, had "total recall" of the face, says Gness. He tested well with focus groups, and kids love him. (I told Gness I could see a "Tommy doll" in Giant's future.)

The company's previous advertising campaigns had been of the "beautiful" ilk - beautiful fruit, beautiful vegetables, beautiful beef, beautiful people. And pretty soon, Gness says, Giant's competitors were marketing themselves the same way. To stand out, Giant needed something completely different.

Mission accomplished.

A petty, smelly prosecution

I see where a federal jury deliberated less than two hours - that apparently included a lunch break - before finding Doug and Mark Loizeaux, the brothers who run the big-bang company, Controlled Demolition, not guilty of steering $4,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. That was pretty much a rebuke of the feds.

This case smelled bad from the start. It looked like a federal fishing expedition from which prosecutors did not get a big fish. So they ended up with a small-ball case that almost defied logic. Why would the Loizeaux brothers, who had pretty much cornered the world market on demolishing big buildings, including public housing projects, risk jail and the end of federal contracts to make an inconsequential contribution to Cummings?

I'm glad the feds are ever-vigilant for public corruption, and they often bring solid cases. (The lobbyist Gerry Evans is scheduled to be sentenced today for his fraud convictions.) But some of these "crimes" seem more like technical violations than just plain bribery, and sometimes the prosecution looks just plain petty. Sometimes in Baltimore, with too many homicides and a massive heroin-cocaine market, these cases look just plain silly.

Heli-gossip from Dudester

Dude Walker, the great radio voice-over man, sometimes flies small planes out of Martin State Airport. He saw a couple of well-known heli-competitors - Sky Eye Chopper 13 and News Chopper 11 - in a hangar there and, discovering the secret lovers, he snapped a paparazzi-style photo for This Just In. "Nice to know," says the Dudester, "that at the end of the day they can make up and not go to bed angry."

Got an interesting photo, or suggestion for one? Send them, along with letters, to This Just In, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Dan Rodricks also can be reached at 410-332-6166, or by e-mail at TJIDAN@aol.com.

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