The Pillsbury Doughboy is real

By U-Wire

Here’s something crazy: To Pillsbury, the Doughboy is just as real as you or me. This highlights a real problem – I don’t think our generation can tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. In fact, I’m not sure that the distinction even matters anymore.

I know that the Doughboy isn’t real. The good people at Pillsbury disagree, however. At some point during the past few decades, the Doughboy became far more than a cartoon character and marketing tool – he became more real than Jay-Z and more of a diva than Rihanna.

This became apparent to Jeff Manning, architect of the Got Milk? marketing campaign, when he tried to work with Pillsbury to cross-promote milk with cookies. His vision was a domestic scene featuring both milk and cookies. The Doughboy was the star of the show, an impish rogue who drinks the last bit of milk.

Test audiences loved it. It was a hit. So why didn’t we ever see these ads?

The Doughboy cited creative differences and refused to do the commercial.

Manning lamented this fact to Salon.com, a popular online magazine. “It was a fabulous spot, really interesting and contemporary. Unfortunately, the Doughboy couldn’t do it.”

I’m sure you’re thinking what I’m thinking – how can a cartoon cite creative differences? After all, he doesn’t freaking exist, right?

But that’s not really true, either, because the Doughboy does exist. We’ve been watching him on TV for generations. The Doughboy is always around to make those cookies extra special. He is the real mother’s little helper, Rolling Stones be damned; mommies love cookies more than Valium, and probably more than daddy.

Pillsbury gets it. “The Pillsbury guidelines stipulate that the Doughboy must always be a helper, a teacher or a friend,” Manning noted to Salon. “Our spot showed the Doughboy drinking the last of the milk. Therefore he wasn’t being a helper. He wasn’t being a teacher. And he certainly wasn’t being a friend.”

I never knew that Doughboy paradigm was “helper, teacher, friend.” Maybe it makes the cookies taste better. Alas, it didn’t help them sell cookies. Pillsbury’s Director of Brand Development, Brad Ready lays down the law: “It might be a real funny thing for him to do. But not the Doughboy. He doesn’t trick people. He doesn’t take advantage. It’s not in his character to do that.”

What’s amazing is that Ready can say something nonsensical – the Doughboy has ethics – and make sense. We do it all the time when we talk about stuff: Pirates did call the sea a “harsh mistress.” We name our cars. We do the same thing with TV shows: Everyone on sorority row knows that Seth Cohen from The O.C. is a sensitive guy but Ryan’s the brooding one.

We also know that things can’t feel, but we act and talk like they do. Some people probably believe that they do. And maybe, in a sense, they do feel. Ready says, “Look. If you asked the Doughboy if he wanted to do that commercial, he’d say no. He’d say, ‘I just want to talk about my cookies.'” Ready’s absolutely correct, too. In fact, he’s probably got a hell of a lot better chance of predicting how the Doughboy feels than I do of predicting how anyone else will react. The Doughboy’s beliefs are pre-existing, delineated in a corporate mission statement. People don’t come with user’s guides.

We live in a world where the Pillsbury Doughboy can exercise creative control. Welcome to hyper-reality, baby. There’s a catch though: Where hyper-reality tricks the mind into detaching from real experiences in favor of simulated or constructed artificial experiences, I think we’re approaching the point where we can declare “real” experiences as dead as the dodo. Reality TV is more real than reality – just look at the Nielsen ratings. VH1’s “Celebreality” is an alluring mistress, and our eyes are becoming just another camera for the reality TV gangbang.

We can talk about the Doughboy’s morals because we made them. They are fixed, permanent, immutable – the closest consumer culture’s getting to Plato’s Forms. And it’s not like the Doughboy’s going to contradict us. He can’t. He’s just baked that way.

So I’d say the Doughboy’s morals and personality are a lot more consistent than that of anyone I’ve ever dated. My perception of real people is a lot less reliable than my perception of the Doughboy. I might even say that the Doughboy is more real than some of the real people I know. I’d certainly trust him more.

I can predict his actions, his feelings – helper, teacher, friend. Everything I know about him is objectively confirmed by the Doughboy’s corporate masters. The Doughboy would never tell me no. The Doughboy would take a bullet for me. The Doughboy always returns my calls.

‘Cause nothing says lovin’ like fresh from the oven.