Raisin in the Spotlight: Sun-Maid goes CGI

In 2006, Sun-Maid made a significant change in the Sun-Maid girl. The 1915 image was revised, in advertising not on the box, with a CGI makeover for part of the 90th anniversary.  This was not the first revision to the iconic Sun-maid girl but is clearly the most dramatic.  The original image is from a watercolor painting of Lorraine Collett Petersen, an actual person.  The most recent CGI version changes the pose from just holding a basket to holding a bunch of grades too and updating her look.  You can find a history of the image at http://www.sun-maid.com/en/about/sunmaid_girl.html.  Keep in mind the image on the box did not change, only the advertisements and the image used at the web site.  Other iconic advertising images, including Betty Crocker and Misses Butterworth have be revised over the years.

Both the new look and CGI effect have draw attention and critics, much of it recent attention.  In December of 2009, Yahoo featured a story about the change and its critics.  Here is their description of the change:  “in giving the female face of their product a substantial makeover from a young, early 20th-century girl into a buxom, modern young woman, leading some to say that the newly made-over raisin girl looks like a Barbie Doll in Amish attire.” http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/108296/sun-maid-girl-makeover-sparks-controversy.html?mod=family-love_money

The Yahoo story noted critics were both conservative and liberal. 

Conservative Critic

“If you spend as much time watching television–particularly children’s programs — as I do lately, you are probably wondering the same thing I am: Since when did the Sun-Maid Girl become hot? Apparently the computer-animated version of the Sun-Maid Girl has been out and about, gallivanting through the grape rows of the San Joaquin Valley since around 2007. According to Sun-Maid, Lorraine Collett-Petersen is the source of inspiration dating back to 1916. She had a few face-lifts over the years (the one with whom we are most familiar dates from 1970) but, we are assured, her image “has always stayed true to the original image of Lorraine Collett that has been trusted and cherished by consumers around the world for generations.” Really? Have you seen the original Sun-Maid Girl? Have her bake some raisin-nut bread for you, sure. But for a night out on the town, I’m taking the one reimagined by Synthespian Studios. Even the voice is seductive. It’s as if Julia Roberts decided to don a red bonnet and start picking grapes. I just can’t wait for the computer-animated version of the Land O’Lakes Indian girl!” http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2009/12/who_smuggled_the_sunmaid_girl.asp

Liberal Critic

Sun-Maid has had yet another makeover. And apparently some implants. And a cleanse. Lorraine Collett-Petersen would hardly recognize herself. Even if the company claims it “has always stayed true to the original image.”  One comment noted, “Ugh, gross. What’s wrong with the cute, retro styling of the old one?”  http://jezebel.com/5416403/truth-in-advertising

Here is the Sun-Maid position:

“Set to turn 90, the Sun-Maid Girl deserves a new look for the new century and our continued mission of sharing the benefits of naturally delicious raisins and other dried fruits with consumers,” said Barry Kriebel, president, Sun-Maid Growers of California. “We’re excited with the resulting television commercials, which put a modern spin on our message that raisins are ‘Just Grapes and Sunshine.’”  http://www.awn.com/news/commercials/sun-maid-girl-gets-cgi-makeover

Questions to Consider

  1.  How would you evaluate the effect of the makeover on the Sun-Maid reputation?
  2. Why would Sun-Maid change the visual for advertising and the web but not for the box?  Is there a problem with this split visual representation?
  3. If part of the change was to attract stakeholder attention, how would you rate the success of the effort?  What is the basis for your evaluation?
  4. Do you agree or disagree with Sun-Maid’s rationale and why?
  5. What argument could be made for creating wide exposure of that change?
  6. How else could Sun-Maid have promoted the visual update?
  7. What are the benefits and liabilities of using a CGI version of the visual?
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