Written by
Bob Stumpel

September 16

Ray Charles In 5 for $5 Arby’s Commercial (1997)

'97 CM Arby

In 1997 Ray made a commercial for the fast-food chain Arby’s. The few traces that still can be found on the web indicate that the TV commercial with Charles was highly irritating. The commercial also ran in 1999. In 2000 “Guy Incognito” remembered:

“I believe I’ve seen the first sign of the apocalypse. It’s in the form of a commercial for Arby’s, the fast-food chain. The voice of Ray Charles is going on about his love for their roast beef sandwich and his passion for horsey sauce. This is the one where Ray Charles talks about his tremendous sense of smell and raves about the smell of Arby’s roast beef sandwiches.
Two or three times during the commercial he sniffs loudly and says what kind of sauce is on the sandwiches based on their smell. I swear, they must have jammed the microphone halfway up his sinus passages when he sniffs. You can almost hear the wind whistling through his nostril hairs.”

Advertising Age (Nov. 10, 1997) had the whole story. The Arby’s fast-food chain was banking on a new $50 million TV campaign spotlighting taste and quality to set it apart from bigger-spending competitors such as McDonald’s Corp. and Burger King Corp. The campaign featured celebrity voices over luscious close-ups of sandwiches being assembled, and a new tagline, “Love food? Think Arby’s.”
The celebrity lineup included Ray Charles, Barry White and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. W.B. Doner & Co., Baltimore, created the campaign, which included 14 spots.
It was a calculated move to use celebrity voices only, noted Scott Lippitt, exec VP-group account director at Doner, and not one of economy. “If we used the on-camera celebrity, it would overwhelm the food and the superior taste message. By only using the voice and the name, the food is center stage,” he said. “There are probably 21 or 22 seconds on food photography in these spots.”

Also read this.

Here, at 6:43 is a 10-second sample of Ray’s contribution to the campaign (not a whole lot of sniffin’ going on):


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