Grey Poupon Ad Campaign (1981)

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I recently saw this meme and laughed entirely too much about the fact that this was completely true. I remember seeing it happen. Plenty a teenager asked for Grey Poupon, from total strangers, in traffic situations where comedically appropriate. Of course, the whole thing is incomprehensible now – as is the way with virality.

In any event, I was inspired to research the famous ad campaign for Grey Poupon and I have the following history to share.

History

Maurice Grey (b. Urcy, France, 1816; d. 1897), who was winning medals for his Dijon mustard machine in 1855, in 1860 was awarded a Royal Appointment for developing a machine that dramatically increased the speed of production of mustard. However, needing financing, which he obtained in 1866 from Auguste Poupon, another Dijon mustard manufacturer, the Grey–Poupon partnership produced their first mustard around 1866 in DijonFrance.

In 1946, the Heublein Company bought the American rights from the original company.

In 1970, the directors of Grey Poupon and of another Dijon mustard firm, André Ricard, having earlier bought the popular Maille-label, formed a conglomerate called S.E.G.M.A. Maille. Soon afterwards, the new company decided to phase out the Grey Poupon label in France.

In America, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein in 1982 and merged it with Nabisco in 1985 to form RJR Nabisco. In 1999, Kraft Foods acquired Nabisco, including the Grey Poupon brand.

In 2000, Amora-Maille was acquired by Unilever and UK trademark rights to Grey Poupon were assumed by it until 2005 when the rights were sold to G Costa & Company Limited, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods. In 2008, Associated British Foods folded G Costa into AB World Foods.

Grey Poupon Dijon and wholegrain mustard are still produced in France for the European markets. Production of Grey Poupon for the American market moved to Holland, Michigan from Pennsylvania following Kraft Heinz’s expansion of its 120-year-old Holland production facility.

Advertising

Heublein increased the visibility and name recognition of their mustard brand with a 1980s commercial pointing out that “one can enjoy the finer things of life with white wine mustard without paying high prices”, in which a Rolls-Royce pulls up alongside another Rolls-Royce, and a passenger in one asks “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” The other responds, “But of course!” The closing shot is of the Grey Poupon jar being passed between the vehicles. In one variation, the characters are on the Orient Express.

The commercial spawned a number of variations, often comedic; a 1991 version features Ian Richardson asking Paul Eddington if he has any Grey Poupon, to which Eddington replies, “But of course”, then motions for his driver to speed away. It is implied that they are playing the roles of the fictitious British Prime Ministers Francis Urquhart (from House of Cards) and Jim Hacker (from Yes, Prime Minister), respectively. Another commercial included the introduction of a plastic squeeze bottle, wherein the bottle makes a flatulent noise, much to the mortification of the driver.

The advertising campaign helped solidify Grey Poupon’s status as a product associated with the wealthy; in 1992, Grey Poupon had the strongest correlation between a person’s income and whether or not they used the product.

In 2013, Grey Poupon created a new advertisement, playing upon the 1980s commercial, displaying a duel between the driver who took the Grey Poupon Jar (played by British actor Frazer Douglas) being chased down by the mustard’s original owner (played by American actor Rod McCary). The spot was nominated for an Emmy for best commercial.

In Popular Culture

The “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” commercials have been parodied in many films and TV shows, including Wayne’s World (1992), Married… with Children‘s “Old Insurance Dodge”, WWE SmackDown and Family Guy‘s “Blue Harvest” (September 23, 2007). The question was asked by Michael J. Fox‘s character, while preparing to eat a frog dog in the film The Hard Way (1991), by Little Richard in The Naked Truth, and by the Dutch character (Joost Michael de Witt) in Emilio Estevez‘s film The Way (2010). The line was also mentioned in a deleted scene from The Office, said by character Andy Bernard.

In her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn, Nora Ephron’s protagonist describes the recipe for an ideal vinaigrette as “mix two tablespoons of Grey Poupon mustard with two tablespoons good redwine vinegar. Then, whisking constantly with a fork, slowly add six tablespoons olive oil, until the vinaigrette is thick and creamy; this makes a very strong vinaigrette that is perfect for salad greens like aragula and watercress and endive.”

The Grey Poupon trade is also mentioned in the Direct-to-video Futurama film Bender’s Big Score (2007) and in episode 20 season 1 (“Randall Without a Cause”) of the Parker Lewis Can’t Lose TV series.

In the Aerosmith song “Eat the Rich,” Steven Tyler sings (at the rich) to “Take that Grey Poupon, my friend, and shove it up your a**.”

The Grey Poupon name has appeared frequently in hip-hop and rap lyrics since 1992, when Das EFX mentioned the brand on their song “East Coast”. Artists such as MF DOOMKanye WestBig SeanJay ZKendrick Lamar, and T-Pain have all referenced Grey Poupon in their song lyrics. According to rapper Open Mike Eagle, the prevalence of these references is attributable to how convenient it is to create a rhyme with the brand name as well as how strongly the product is associated with class, style, and luxury


One thing that really stands out to me, when reading about this ad, is that the campaign took about ten years to reach a zenith. It was only after a decade of advertising that TV and movies began spoofing the campaign – and in so doing – strengthening its effect. What happens if they give up on this campaign before it finally takes off? History is irrevocably changed.

In 1992, Grey Poupon had the strongest correlation between a person’s income and whether or not they used the product.

Rich people watched this ad and made a point of using this mustard. That’s amazing. Did Grey Poupon take this advertising approach because French’s Mustard boxed them out of being the common man’s mustard? Or is it that when your name is Grey Poupon that’s your only viable marketing approach? I just have this sense that the 1980s and 1990s “mustard wars” are a Netflix documentary waiting to happen.

In any case, here is the original ad. Enjoy.

5 thoughts on “Grey Poupon Ad Campaign (1981)

    1. Yeah. I think the name probably forced them to lean into the aristocratic branding effort. “Grey Poupon” as a common man’s mustard would have a lot more negative stereotyping, I think.

      “You had Grey Poupon? You should go see a doctor.”

    1. The ads started in the early 80s but then became exceptionally popular during the early 90s. Personally I think the spoof in Wayne’s World is probably most responsible for the virality of the joke.

      But yeah, I found it a bit depressing to realize how long ago those things were running. It doesn’t feel like that long ago.