Retro Commercials: Grey Poupon Mustard

I don’t know about you, but commercials can often take me back to my formative years as quickly as any song or movie can. That is why we will continue this semi-regular feature on ’80s commercials that I consider particularly memorable, noteworthy, or forgotten. Television commercials were much more influential back when we were forced to watch them without the luxury to fast-forward through and/or stream shows with limited or no interruptions. This issue will cover the Grey Poupon commercials from the ’80s featuring the iconic question, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”.

Grey Poupon is credited with broadening American mustard horizons (from just traditional yellow mustard) and much of that is owed to the ambiance of luxury, sophistication and wealth created by the television commercials. It’s only Dijon mustard, but “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” became synonymous with extravagance (and a little snootiness). Even though you didn’t travel in a Rolls-Royce or yacht, that extravagance was  accessible to anybody at your local grocery store.

Grey Poupon originated in 1866 in Dijon, France and is named after its inventor and financial partners, Maurice Grey and Auguste Poupon. The American rights were eventually purchased from those original French owners by Heublein Inc. way back in 1946. But it wasn’t until 1980 and a special television commercial that the brand really gained notoriety. The Grey Poupon brand had been handled by the Marschalk advertising agency since 1964, though it wasn’t until 1980 when Heublein management became willing to branch out from magazines, their usual advertising medium, to try television. Stephen J. Kaplan (art director) and Laurence J. Elegant (writer) came up with a concept and created a Grey Poupon spot for television. They first tested the commercial in Seattle to surprising success. So they tried another test on the east coast in Boston. The response was incredible again and within months Grey Poupon commercials were being run across the country on network television. That first commercial begins with a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce pulling up alongside another Rolls-Royce, and a passenger in one car rolls the window down to ask, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” The other responds, “But of course!” and then the closing shot is of the Grey Poupon jar being passed between the vehicles. Here is that original memorable commercial…

They sold the mustard as “one of life’s finer pleasures” yet one that is reasonably attainable. They followed up the original commercial with a similar concept except that the handoff would take place between two yachts sailing side by side. The yacht being a symbol of luxury and wealth itself along with other shots of opulence and a voice-over stating, “‘The finer things. Happily, some are affordable.” Of course, the yacht passengers still asked, ”Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” This commercial is not as memorable as the original, but still continued to fuel the rapid brand recognition and sales growth. Here is that commercial…

Before they started advertising on television in 1980, Grey Poupon owned about 2% of a mustard market worth an estimated $120 million at retail. By 1984, its sales had increased by 220% and its share of a growing mustard market to around 5%. The American market was still dominated by yellow mustard, but Grey Poupon certainly made its mark. They had also dramatically increased their advertising budget as evidenced by the next commercial which tells a similar story but features a handoff made between two railroad dining cars going in the same direction shot using the famous Orient Express. Here you can watch that commercial…

There is one other Grey Poupon commercial that I particularly remember from the ’80s. Again, they capitalized on the same formula of asking the famous question and then featuring the jar of mustard handoff. This time, luxury is represented by two gondolas in Venice. Here is that commercial…

All of these commercials served to reinforce Grey Poupon’s status as a product associated with luxury and the wealthy. In a study conducted by the University of Chicago, they found that in 1992, Grey Poupon actually had the strongest correlation between a person’s income and whether or not they used the product. Isn’t that wild that, in 1992, a mustard predicted income better than any other brand in the U.S.?  Those are some powerful commercials! According to the same study, by 2016, Grey Poupon no longer held that distinction and its place as the key signifier of the country’s economic and cultural divide had been taken by Apple’s iPhone.

There you go, another trip down memory lane in the form of TV commercials. In 1982, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein Inc. (and would later merge with Nabisco in 1985 creating the resulting RJR Nabisco corporation). In 1999, Kraft Foods acquired Nabisco, including the Grey Poupon brand and continues to sell it. The brand (and the commercial) has been parodied to death in pop culture within movies, television, music. Regardless, asking the question, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon” has become part of our lexicon and changed not only the way we looked at mustard but the way we considered affordable luxury and sophistication. And, you know it of course started in that great decade of the ’80s.

More Retro Commercial Features on TRN

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Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.