McCain brings back Stranger Things’ Barb to talk sustainable potato farming

Who: McCain, with Rethink for strategy, creative and PR, and UM for media.

What: “Bring Back Anything,” a new campaign that brings back a long-gone character from the uber-popular TV show Stranger Things to make a point about regenerative agriculture.

When & Where: The campaign launched July 13 (National French Fry Day) and is running as OLV and social video.

Why: According to McCain—the world’s largest French fry producer—the planet loses 12 million hectares of farmable land due to erosion every year. But regenerative agriculture can bring back farmable soil, and McCain has made it a central goal for its business, pledging to convert 100% of its potato growing to regenerative models by 2030. It’s a change that is not only good for the planet, but good for many—especially younger—consumers.

“Sustainability has become increasingly important for consumers, particularly the younger generation,” said Matt Kohler, managing director, Canada retail at McCain. “We want younger audiences to connect with those sustainability initiatives, to learn about regenerative agriculture, and to know that their purchases can make a positive impact for our planet.”

To reach that younger audience with its sustainable messaging, Rethink and McCain brought back a TV character who famously disappeared, and then became a focus of a huge online movement to bring her back.

How: The first season of Stranger Things featured a storyline about the disappearance of character named Barb. While she was a secondary character in the show, a large number of fans were intrigued by her disappearance, and #BringBackBarb, #ImWithBarb, and #JusticeForBarb became popular online hashtags. Shannon Purser, the actress who played Barb, was even nominated for an Emmy. (Read more about #JusticeForBarb here.)

However, Barb never came back—until now. The anchor spot for the new campaign plays like a big inside joke for anyone who knows the story of Barb. It opens with “Barb” driving a McCain-branded tractor through a field and speaking directly to camera. “Sometimes when things go away, they never come back,” she says, before a sly, knowing smile crosses her face. “Like me,” she says, as #BringBackBarb appears on screen.

She then explains McCain’s commitment to regenerative agriculture to bring back healthy soil. “Because together, we can bring back anything—even me,” she says to close the spot, before a shadowy figure quickly flashes across the screen, evoking the mystery at the heart of the Stranger Thing series, without once mentioning the show. (Rethink didn’t immediately respond to our question about the use of Barb without apparently being able to mention the show itself.)

Purser also appears in a short Instagram post, telling her one million followers: “I’m back. And I brought fries.”

And we quote: “Regenerative agriculture can be a pretty complex topic, and, if we’re being real, kind of dry. That’s why we decided to pique our audience’s interest by leveraging a beloved TV character, but in a way that makes a lot of sense conceptually.” —Rethink creative director Cam Spires

David Brown