302. Category Leader? Why Not Act Like It?
Jul 1, 2010 at 03:38PM
When you are the leader in an industry or category you can do one of two things. You can fear change and protect the status quo with safe, traditional and boring marketing. Or you can leverage your position by advertising with confidence and courage. Not so surprisingly, a lot of companies opt for choice number one and do so for a variety of reasons (all bad.) Rare is the company that takes its position at the top and attempts to climb still higher.

One such company is Kraft. Well, not really the entire Kraft company but more specifically Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. It's hard to argue that they are not the boxed-dinner champion. Sure they might take a shot or two from Velveeta from time to time, but let's not kid ourselves - Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is macaroni and cheese. (Incidentally, it's one of the few products that you cannot buy a generic replacement for - at least one that is any good. I'm not sure what they put in that stuff, but it's pretty darn tasty and no store brand has figured it out.) What I've seen from The Cheesiest advertiser lately is a campaign that is building on decades of brand equity but also leveraging it with a thoroughly modern and confident approach. In short, I really like it. So why do I like it? Well, let's break it down.

Beyond Nike-esque Logo.
With their new campaign called, You know you love it, K M&C has immediately done something that only very few companies have been able to do successfully—Nike, Apple & McDonalds being the major examples—they've gone with just a symbol as a logo. No words, no name, no nothing. Just a symbol. But they've even one-upped these aforementioned brand pioneers as their new symbol isn't merely an ordinary designed symbol, it's actually their product. Yes, they've managed to communicate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese using their noodle and a little bit of color. It's perfect. It's classy. It's timeless and a little courageous. (In the outdoor the noodle lives entirely by itself, and in the TV you can tell they are trying to transition to noodle-only but still have a brief full combination mark before the end title.)

Product (with color) as Identity:

A literal happy accident occurs with this new logo as the noodle naturally reflects a smile. And since KM&C is convenient comfort food to a lot of people now in their 30's and 40's, it makes a lot of sense to build on that happiness element. A lot of advertisers would take this to a weird or cliche place, but Kraft sprinkled in a little technology to make the tagline, You Know You Love It come to life. Earlier this month they ran a double-banner on Yahoo that asked viewers to Show their love by smiling. Using a little facial recognition and your webcam the flat macaroni noodle would smile along with you. It's nothing more than a cute gimmick, but sometimes cute gimmicks work. Inviting people to interact with your logo isn't easy and this was disarmingly fun. The best banner ad this year so far.

Kraft Smile Detection OLM from Stephen Riley on Vimeo.

There is a strategic shift in the tone of this campaign compared to what Kraft has been doing with the brand over the years. I'm guessing they decided to move slightly away from selling to kids and their caretakers to focusing on the middle-aged comfort-food audience. Gone are the old ads about it being the cheesiest with 6 and 8 year-olds aplenty, replaced with a more sophisticated approach targeting former kids. This is smart because you are still basically talking to parents but giving them an excuse to buy it for themselves and not just for their kids. This strategic shift is evident in the TV spots. The spots still focus on family settings but have a new voice. It's the new voice that balances the message between kid-friendly and adult-friendly with success much in the same way a Pixar film does. What is particularly refreshing is the move away from value too - which has been all the rage in the grocery isle for the last few years. Kraft is giving us more reasons to buy their product than a reduced price. Does this mean we've seen the peak of value-advertising after this recession? Hopefully. 3 spots below.

Opportunistic Crime: I've seen a certain somebody do this before...

Dinner Infraction:

Skimming Off The Top:

Another aspect of this campaign that I like is the clarity of the design. Here's an example where the design and the advertising are in harmony, working towards the same goal. The visual treatment is focused and actually communicates more than the words in the creative. The design tells you exactly who this advertiser is, helping the noodle-as-icon work, while reinforcing what to look for on the grocery shelf. It's the blue box using only subtle design cues; color, type, and negative space. The design is working on a level that would make Marlboro's F1 team proud, but in a far more innocent and endearing manner. The website has been updated and everything feels like it's coming from the same place - as it should. Unfortunately the outdoor boards are hard to come by - but I managed to capture this one with my iPhone near an intersection in LA. The following board from a mention in the New York Times.

The Design Hard at Work:

source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/business/media/27adco.html
Design Clarity As Seen On Kraft's Site

The Copy is Nice Too
Across the board the headlines (and copy) are nice reminders of the boxed comfort-food we all grew up with. The copy tends to be succinct and nostalgic without feeling overly retro and work as a nudge to try your favorite dinner again. One could argue that the tagline is far too close to McDonald's I'm Loving It which it probably is but the rest of the copy works hard to get a smile. *I am obligated at this point to make clear that my grandmother's homemade macaroni and cheese was by far superior to anything I could get in a box. It was no contest. But of the boxed varieties and for those without my grandma, Kraft was the optimal choice growing up.*Legal disclaimer ended.

All in all, this is a really strong attempt by Kraft to reconnect with an audience that might have easily moved on to more fancy, expensive (or cheaper), frozen or simply ordered dinners. The work still feels appropriate for the brand but is surprising in its sophistication. And a brand that can surprise us will entertain us so long as it's not too far removed from what we expect from them, if that makes any sense. In other words, the surprise has to be within reason. I hope this campaign not only signals and end to the value/price mentality of large packaged goods companies for a while but also a willingness of category leaders to be brave. The risks are much smaller than the potential rewards. I haven't researched sales data yet (and it may yet be too early to tell) but I suspect this relaunch will make a big difference in their bottom line.

Oh, yeah. It was done by that little shop called Crispin who recently lost their leader.

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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