Sunday, June 6, 2010

The New York Times

The New York Times
June 6, 2010
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THE economy has remade the Madison Avenue landscape in myriad ways, among them changing the types of products that are advertised frequently now compared with during the boom years.

In other words, Hummer, no; hummus, yes.

Shorthand, to be sure, but it encapsulates a major trend: Ads for glossy, big-ticket purchases like behemoth sport utilities have been supplanted in many instances by ads for prosaic, less expensive products like packaged foods.

Several food marketers increased ad spending markedly in the first quarter compared with the period a year ago, according to the Kantar Media research division of WPP. Among them were ConAgra Foods, up 22.9 percent; H. J. Heinz, up 45.2 percent; Hershey, up 81.2 percent; General Mills, up 15.5 percent; Kraft Foods, up 17.8 percent; and J. M. Smucker, up 12.4 percent.

Among the brands planning to spend more throughout 2010 is the Sabra line of refrigerated dips and spreads that includes more than a dozen varieties of, yes, hummus. Sabra is sold by the Sabra Dipping Company, a joint venture of the Strauss Group and the Frito-Lay North America division of PepsiCo.

Although the name of a soft drink predominates in the corporate brand, PepsiCo estimates that $10 billion of its annual revenue of $43.2 billion last year came from what it calls its “good-for-you portfolio” of products like Aquafina water, Near East couscous, Quaker Oats and Tropicana juices.

Among those products are smaller brands like Sabra, Naked juices, Smartfood snacks, Stacy’s pita chips and True North nuts.

PepsiCo intends to “rapidly expand” its lineup of healthier fare, according to the company’s 2009 annual report, by taking steps like “investing to accelerate the growth of these platforms” — in other words, more advertising.

A campaign for Sabra that was tested in five regional markets last year “performed well, better than our expectations,” said Mina Penna, Sabra brand manager at Sabra Dipping in Astoria, Queens, so it is being expanded, beginning on Monday, into a national initiative.

The campaign will include television commercials, two Web sites, digital ads, a presence in social media like Facebook and Twitter, ads in stores, promotions and events like a chefs’ tour of 19 cities and house parties where guests can sample Sabra products.

The campaign is being created by the New York office of StrawberryFrog, which also creates ads for Stacy’s and True North. The premise of the humorous campaign, which carries the theme “Adventure awaits,” is that Sabra is just what a pallid palate craves.

People who enjoy what they eat and like to try new tastes “sometimes fall into a ‘food rut’ and lose their way a bit on their epicurean journey,” Ms. Penna said, as symbolized in the ads by a rote reliance on Chinese takeout, lettuce-only salads or even — gasp! — spray cheese.

The campaign proposes saving all the unfortunates who are “in need of a taste intervention,” as an announcer declares, by switching them to Sabra.

Visitors to will be able to nominate family members and friends for comestible makeovers.

(Coincidentally, Kraft last month introduced a humorous campaign for its Sandwich Shop Mayo line of flavored mayonnaise that carries the theme “Give your sandwich a makeover” and features cast members of the HGTV reality series “Design Star” intervening in the lives of bored eaters.)

“We use the term ‘epicurious’ ” to describe the target audience, said Chip Walker, partner and head of planning at StrawberryFrog New York. (The Condé Nast Digital unit of Advance Publications likes the term, too, judging by its Web site.)

Some potential buyers of Sabra are “adventurous eaters who we haven’t quite connected with yet,” Mr. Walker said, and some are “people who don’t know what hummus is or what it tastes like.”

To help out the latter, commercials from the test last year, which describe Sabra as a delicious way to “taste the Mediterranean without leaving home,” will promote the hummus and perhaps introduce some people to it.

In addition to StrawberryFrog New York, others working on the campaign include OMD in New York, a media agency that is part of the Omnicom Group, and Seymour Public Relations in Bergenfield, N.J.

Sabra Dipping will spend “significantly” more on advertising this year than the estimated $3.3 million it spent last year, Ms. Penna said. She declined to be more specific.

The first of 19 cities on the chefs’ tour, called the Sabra Taste Adventure, is Richmond, Va., near a new, $61 million manufacturing plant that Sabra Dipping opened last month. Sabra Dipping executives have said they plan to move the company’s headquarters to the Richmond area from Astoria.

That would make it a rough year for New Yorkers who like their local food companies. First, the bakery Stella D’oro closed its plant in the Bronx, and now Sabra is going to leave Queens.

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