Side Dishes: Cabot gets hunky with new ad campaign
What do you call a trio of dashing middle-aged men sitting around eating chunks of cheese? If you're Roberta MacDonald, senior VP of marketing at Cabot Creamery Cooperative , the answer is obvious: "naturally aged cheddar hunks." 
"I'm so sick of young people being the dominant look. I wanted handsome, interesting faces," MacDonald says of the ad campaign she devised. The hunks in question are actor Luis Guzmán  of Sutton, a favorite of directors Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Soderbergh, and a couple of Southern gentleman: James Marshall Case and Mark Joy.
The duo of short, locally filmed bits — which show the men having highly charged conversations over cheese slices — appear on national TV via satellite and can be seen on Cabot's website. They were in the limelight last week when John Swansburg of Slate.com discussed the spots  in a column called "Ad Report Card." He described himself as "surprised" to see Guzmán shilling for a cheese company, and equally taken aback by the "bizarre" concept.
"Your typical cheese spot looks a lot like this," he writes: "Black-and-white stills of salt-of-the-earth farmers, a color tracking shot of a mountainous cheddar slab, and a voiceover describing the craftsmanship that goes into each and every wedge." Was Cabot targeting the Latino market? Swansburg wondered, unaware that the actor lives part-time on his Vermont farm. He solved the mystery by talking to MacDonald, who explained that "she runs into [Guzmán] around town all the time."
Bloggers quickly picked up the story. Then, last Friday, a piece on the ads appeared on MSN.com's homepage, leading to an unprecedented amount of web traffic. "Friday . . . we had 38,000 hits . . . I don't think that many people have been on in a year," MacDonald boasts. "It made us all feel real drunk."
How did they end up in the national eye? "We produced the ads about nine months ago, but we couldn't afford to air them," MacDonald says candidly. Taking advantage of the Internet, the Cabot folks posted the spots on YouTube. Back then, the traffic was "me and my mother," MacDonald jokes.
Once they had the moolah, the company snagged a few advertising slots on the then-new "Rachael Ray Show" and got a good deal with Dish Network for the first quarter. That's where Swansburg saw them. "We spent about seven grand and bought the entire universe," MacDonald says.
So far, the Cooperative hasn't seen a business boost from the campaign. "Since it was just last week, no," MacDonald admits. "That's when you sort of lose your buzz and reality sets in." However, she notes, the Creamery did receive a letter from a Guzmán fan in Wisconsin, who vowed that, despite living in a state that jealously guards the reputation of its own cheese, he would go out and buy some Cabot, stat.