Every marketing campaign comes with its own risks, from fickle consumers to misunderstood messaging, but when is it safe to just “go for it?” During Advertising Week New York, two marketing executives from Kraft Heinz shared examples of how taking risks paid off.
“Leave Room For Risk” was a panel that featured Magen Hanraha, vice president of media and marketing services at Kraft Heinz Company and Michelle St. Jacques, who serves as head of US brand and R&D.
As a legacy brand, Kraft has a lot of trust to maintain with its customers, so balancing the need for innovation with consistency can be a challenge. In 2016, for example, the company wanted to remove artificial ingredients from its Mac and Cheese, as requested many times by parents. As any parent knows, however, changing a kid’s favorite meal even a little can have dire consequences.
Kraft was so confident in its new recipe that it launched the “world’s largest blind taste test,” selling over 50 million boxes of the new, natural Mac and Cheese without anyone noticing a difference. It wasn’t until the brand launched a marketing campaign that customers knew what had happened.
St. Jacques shared three examples of how The Kraft Heinz Company treats an idea that might be risky. Each risk paid off, they discovered, by fulfilling one or more of the following components.
The first need is to earn attention through actions. This summer, Kraft heard that children were being fined for having a lemonade stand or getting shut down altogether. They responded by creating a legal team called “Country Time Legal-Ade” that reimbursed children’s fines.
The second component Kraft Heinz used in risk-taking is by hacking culture. On season six of Mad Men, fictional marketer Don Draper unsuccessfully pitched an ad campaign to Heinz. When the real Heinz saw it, they decided to make it happen. It was risky with all the legal tape and time it would take to put together, but St. Jacques said they never stopped pushing the idea because they knew it was good. After all that, it was a year before the ad could come to life but it was worth the wait. The “Pass the Heinz” campaign appeared in 2017 in print and on billboards, giving credit to the fictional Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce agency. A campaign that cost $22,000 to make hacked into pop culture to earn over $55 million in earned media.
The third way Kraft Heinz captured audience attention in a risky situation was to avoid indifference with a clear POV. For Mother’s Day last year, the brand decided to “keep it real” during a holiday reserved for putting Mom up on a pedestal. Kraft enlisted the help of author Melissa Mohr, author of Holy Sh*T: A Brief History of Swearing. “Swear Like a Mother” embraces the idea that moms sometimes need to swear, and that’s okay. Mohr offered some alternative swear words moms can use around the little ones but when it’s been one of those days—specially marked boxes of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese included a pair of earplugs.
“Swear Like a Mother” turned out to be a bit controversial, with a group of mothers boycotting the brand and complaints rolling in from concerned customers, especially husbands. Moms, however, identified with the campaign and began tagging their friends on social media. Overall, the campaign received 90 percent positive sentiment and Kraft was satisfied.
“It’s okay that not everyone liked it,” they said at the panel.
Both members of the Kraft Heinz team agreed that being nimble allowed the brand to make risky campaigns that pay off. A recent example of this was the Mayochup debate. The brand’s marketing team woke up one morning to find that outlets in the UK were debating on whether Mayochup was delicious or disgusting. The timing was right to discuss mayonnaise, as Kraft Heinz had just launched its new product. The brand responded by sharing a poll on Twitter that quickly became viral, spurring a hot debate both on and offline about the merits of such a condiment. It turns out that the brand didn’t know how they were going to make Mayochup if it got approved by the fans, but starting the conversation prevented them from missing out. Consumers in Utah, who already mixed mayonnaise and ketchup to make “fry sauce” were not impressed. Several consumers were grossed out by the very idea—but suddenly the whole world was talking about Heinz mayo.
Not everything is going to be a viral hit, and that’s okay, said Hanraha and St. Jacques, but you never know unless you take the risk.